DeKalb apartment owner won’t oust residents at month’s end

Forest at Columbia tenants previously told to be out by Aug. 31

Plenty of questions remain unanswered. Things are going to take time to shake out. Not everyone will be eligible for help.

But come the end of the month, there will be no mass evictions at the Forest at Columbia apartments.

“It’s a start. It’s a beginning,” longtime resident Ida Woolbright said. “We pray things come through for us, because it’s been really, you know, devastating.”

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New owner Meridian Management Group sent shockwaves through the DeKalb County complex earlier this summer when it informed residents that renovations were in the works and everyone — all 112 families — needed to be out by Aug. 31.

The complex near the I-285/I-20 interchange has plenty of issues, whether it be with upkeep or crime. But residents say it’s one of the few affordable options left and they weren’t given enough time to find new homes. Over the last several weeks, they’ve come together to hold rallies and protests.

They got a bit of good news Monday.

During an event in which DeKalb officials were on scene to provide help through various county departments and nonprofits, Meridian representatives said they were willing to continue to work with tenants — and were removing the Aug. 31 deadline for their departure.

The management company now plans to complete renovations on a staged basis. Representatives said qualifying residents will be allowed to stay at the complex, shuffling between buildings while construction is underway.

“We’ll work with each and every one of the residents to make sure that they have a safe place to live,” said Meridian’s Pinny Perlmutter.

What, exactly, that entails will differ from resident to resident.

Those who gathered for Monday’s event filled out forms expressing their interest (or lack thereof) in staying at the complex and agreed to follow-up conversations with Meridian representatives. Allen Mitchell, director of DeKalb’s community development department, said county staff were there to start the process of providing other forms of help.

Those included rental assistance or help with the relocation process, for which federal funds were available. WorkSource DeKalb was also on-site to help folks find a job.

Mitchell — who helped convince Meridian to remove its original Aug. 31 deadline — said some residents have “huge delinquencies” in their rent and may be difficult to assist. But they’ll do their best.

County Commissioner Larry Johnson helped coordinate Monday’s event, which also included free food and clothing for those in need.

“We’re out here trying to meet the residents where they live, to get them the services as much as we can,” Johnson said.

The commissioner also gave credit to Sydney Clark, a young tenant who helped galvanize her neighbors shortly after they were informed of Meridian’s original plans.

“I think I did my part,” Clark said. “I did what I came to do.”