East Point apartments condemned; tenants sent packing

A dozen East Point families will have to move from their homes Friday afternoon.

City officials on Wednesday condemned the Washington Arms apartments on Washington Road, giving residents living there 48 hours to vacate the premises before the power and water are shut off.

Residents living there for as long as five years said the 19 apartments had no heat, and they went through stints during which the water was cut off or the hot water didn’t work.

“The heat’s been out since we’ve been here,” said Gabriella Gonzales, a three-year resident who said she used electric space heaters to keep her family warm.

Thursday afternoon, Gonzales packed clothes and household items into a minivan as her 10-year-old daughter walked up from the school bus.

“We’re going to have to leave,” she told the young girl. “They’re putting everybody out.”

Although her rent will jump from $500 to $800 a month, Gonzales was able to find a townhome not far away that her household – her two daughters and her husband – would share with their family members who lived next door.

“Thank God today was my day off,” she said. “But I had to call in for tomorrow.”

Atlanta-based Meridian Management Group acquired the 20-unit, five-building complex at 3030 Washington Road early last month through receivership.

Meridian regional manager Caleb Barber said that the company will transfer at least eight families to another apartment property in southeast Atlanta. Ten more families, including the two households of Gonzales’, will be reimbursed their rent Friday morning and they will move to other apartments or homes.

“We are on top of it,” Barber told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution early Thursday evening. “We just came in on a bad situation.”

Barber said East Point officials required a city inspection when the property changed hands in order to maintain a certificate of occupancy.

That’s when the problem with the furnace came to light.

“They told us they would give us to the end of the week to get issues fixed, as long as they saw progress,” Barber said. “But Wednesday morning, we were called by a resident to say letters were on the doors.”

Residents found orange notices with City of East Point letterhead pinned to their doors telling them that their homes were “unfit for human habitation,” and that any use or occupancy would be illegal, giving them until Friday to leave.

“If we turn our heads the other way, that puts the liability on the city,” City Council member Myron B. Cook told The AJC on Thursday afternoon as he and two fellow council members – Jacqueline Slaughter-Gibbons and Alexander Gothard – toured the facility.

“What really disturbs me is the number of families that have kids. To have kids living in these conditions is a shame.”

It is unclear who previously owned the property. But residents and non-residents alike complained that regardless what property owners did or did not do, the city had an obligation to address the living conditions before new owners came in.

“I wonder when was the last time the city inspected this place,” Ramond Wilcox said as he helped his 85-year-old mother, Nettie P. Wise, prepare to move. “The city should be looking for that kind of thing at least once a year.”

Wise said she moved into her apartment over the summer when heating wasn’t a concern.

“They should’ve told me about this when I moved in,” she said. “They don’t treat a dog like they treated us.”

Councilman Gothard wondered aloud whether there were other apartment complexes and rental properties around East Point that had residents living in similar conditions.

“We talked about this the other day, trying to determine a way to deal with just this situation,” he said.

City spokesman James Hammond said officials had contacted the Red Cross and the United Way to offer help, but that was before Meridian provided tenants with options.

Still, Barber said the work isn’t done at Washington Arms. He will continue Friday to negotiate more time for those families who aren’t able to move right away.

“We just can’t do it within the strict timeline that they gave us,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to pack up and move everything in 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, Jose Brate, who opted for the transfer, loaded up a moving truck to relocate his family to their new apartment near the southern terminus of Pryor Road.

And he counted his blessings.

“I work in the West End, so I’ll be closer to home,” he said.