DeKalb vows to help residents facing ouster from apartment complex

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Tenants of Forest at Columbia say they’re being wrongfully evicted

DeKalb County officials have vowed to help residents who say the new owner of their apartment complex is wrongfully evicting them en masse.

The specifics weren’t entirely clear, but DeKalb Commissioner Larry Johnson said there was money available to help tenants at the Forest at Columbia apartments. And Allen Mitchell, the director of the county’s community development department, said the goal was to keep renters in their homes while the complex underwent planned renovations.

Mitchell said he was meeting with the complex’s owner Tuesday afternoon.

“We have an initiative across all departments in the county to be able to come together to help these citizens that greatly need help,” Mitchell said during a virtual meeting of the county commission.

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Several residents of Forest at Columbia rallied outside the DeKalb County government building late last month, saying that Meridian Management Group had given them just two months’ notice to vacate the premises. The complex — located off Columbia Drive, just west of the I-285/1-20 interchange — has had its issues with code enforcement and crime but, residents said, is one of the few affordable options left in the county.

Putting some 110 families out with such short notice, in order to make improvements they won’t benefit from, is unconscionable, they said. The given deadline was Aug. 31.

Less than a week after last month’s rally, residents and members of a group called the Party for Socialism and Liberation surprised Johnson at an unrelated community event to demand help from the commissioner.

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In an unusual moment during Tuesday’s commission meeting, Forest at Columbia resident Sydney Clark was invited to speak. She apologized to Johnson for “acting in such a nasty manner” at that event and blamed the Party for Socialism and Liberation for “misleading” residents.

“The county is here to help,” Johnson said. “We have the resources, it just takes time.”

Commissioner Ted Terry, who had earlier balked at the impromptu discussion of the issue, called Clark’s appearance at the meeting a “political apology tour” but said he would “make a motion right now to put some money into an account” to help her and other Forest at Columbia residents.

After a brief but tense back and forth about civility, Commissioner Robert Patrick, the board’s presiding officer, ordered the county IT director to mute Terry.