Residents of Shallowford Gardens Apartments listen to explanation of John Lantz, manger of Shallowford Gardens Apartments, through a translation system during a community meeting at First Baptist Church of Doraville on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. The DeKalb County School District late Monday approved buying that apartment complex, where it plans to build a new elementary school to alleviate overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster of schools. Dozens of families in the 104-unit Shallowford Garden Apartments have until the end of August to find new housing. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Residents DeKalb school will displace worry about finding new homes

The DeKalb County School District approved an $8.2 million land acquisition at 3630 Shallowford Road to build an elementary school to take the strain off two overcrowded schools in the Cross Keys cluster, along the Buford Highway corridor.

Ironically, the move will add stress to many families whose students would use the school. Some residents of the apartment complex currently at the site say they will be driven out of the area, unable to pay rising rents or even find a place nearby, given their undocumented immigration status.

“I suspected they were selling when I saw a man out measuring the land,” said Gloria Valentin, who has lived at the Shallowford Gardens Apartments for 24 years. “It’s going to be sad. I love the location, and all of my friends are here.”

Residents of Shallowford Gardens Apartments arrive for a meeting on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, to hear about the DeKalb County School District’s purchase of their apartment complex. A new elementary school is to be bult there to alleviate overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster of schools. Dozens of families in the 104-unit complex have until the end of August to find new housing. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionAJC]

Residents were told their last day at the complex is Aug. 31. Former owner John Lantz presented the school district’s transition plan to more than 100 residents Wednesday night at First Baptist Church of Doraville. It includes a taxable $2,250 moving bonus for lease holders who are up to date on their rent when they move out, and waives notice by residents to move out as well as charges for the unit’s condition upon move-out. A resident asked what happens if they can’t find something by the move-out date given, noting the limited options for undocumented residents.

“We will be required to take legal action,” Lantz said. “Two-and-a-half months is more than adequate.”

Dan Drake, the school district’s director of planning and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) programming, said more than a dozen sites were considered for the school before a deal was made on 3630 Shallowford Road.

Residents grilled Lantz on the short notice to them. He said he didn’t feel comfortable telling residents about a possible sale before the school district signed a contract.

John Lantz, manger of Shallowford Gardens Apartments, speaks to residents during a meeting at First Baptist Church of Doraville on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. The DeKalb County School District late Monday approved the purchase of the apartment complex, to build a new elementary school to alleviate overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster of schools. The purchase will displace dozens of families. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

He said conversations have been going on for some time with multiple firms to sell the site, as interest was piqued by redevelopment talks at the shuttered GM plant near the I-285-85 interchange. That project stalled when Superintendent Steve Green announced the school district would not participate in a tax plan that would provide funding for redevelopment using school tax dollars, but rebounded after the DeKalb County Commission approved infrastructure funding earlier this year.

One resident asked how he would receive the bonus, as he’s never had a lease agreement on the apartment he’s lived in more than 15 years.

Sofia Salazar, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment at the complex with her mother and several others, said the news adds insult to injury as many people contend with new worries for undocumented residents under the Trump administration, with immigration holds and travel restrictions further confusing an already frustrating process.

“A lot of us are worried about our immigration status,” she said. “And a lot of the places we can afford are in Gwinnett County. Nobody wants to go to Gwinnett County.”

And, she said, the $2,250 moving bonus won’t stretch far for families who could pay more than double their current rent at another complex. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment at nearby apartment complexes varies between $1,400 and 2,900. Salazar’s family pays $715 for their unit.

Residents of Shallowford Gardens Apartments use a translation system to listen to John Lantz, manger of the complex, during a meeting with displaced residents at First Baptist Church of Doraville on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. The DeKalb County School District late Monday approved the purchase of the Doraville apartment complex, where they hope to build a new elementary school to alleviate overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster of schools. The purchase of 3630 Shallowford Road will displace dozens of families in the 104-unit Shallowford Garden Apartments, giving them until the end of August to find new housing. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“There’s transportation here. It’s close to MARTA,” she said after the residents meeting. “A lot of people aren’t driving because you can’t get a license without documents.”

Schools in the Cross Keys cluster are along the Buford Highway corridor, where most of the students are Hispanic or Latino, and from a large refugee population from DeKalb County’s refugee resettlement district. Construction for the new elementary school, preliminarily dubbed Cross Keys North Elementary School, would begin in 2018, with the school to open by fall 2020.

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