An apartment building takes center stage in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

An Atlanta apartment tower has become a flashpoint in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race as Republican Herschel Walker appeared there Tuesday to blame Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Ebenezer Baptist Church for trying to evict disadvantaged residents.

No evictions have taken place at the building for failure to pay rent since June 2020, a building spokesperson said. Warnock called Walker’s allegations “a desperate attempt by a desperate candidate to sully the name of Martin Luther King Jr.’s church.”

“I’m proud of the work that Ebenezer continues to do on behalf of the most marginalized members of the human family,” Warnock, the senior pastor at the church, said when asked about the issue after he voted.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

The Columbia Tower at MLK Village is owned by a for-profit entity with ties to Warnock and Ebenezer. It is managed by Columbia Residential, which handles the day-to-day operations.

“For years, Columbia Tower at MLK Village has sought to provide affordable, stable housing for persons coming out of homelessness and Georgians with disabilities and mental illness, so they can live independently and contribute to the Atlanta community,” the company said in a statement.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

While the company maintained no recent evictions have taken place, there were eviction actions — called dispossessory warrants — filed against multiple residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of them were for small sums of money. And new warrants were filed against three residents on Oct. 12. Those residents owed past-due rent ranging from $115 to $610, records show.

Walker used the building in downtown Atlanta as a backdrop for a news conference Tuesday where he said Ebenezer “does have something to do with what’s happening right here.”

“First of all, Dr. King has nothing to do with what’s going on behind us right now,” he said, referring to Warnock’s statement. “And I think it’s wrong to have leaders to not take responsibility to do what’s right.”

Walker was flanked by about a dozen people holding eviction signs.

“The people behind us right now has been evicted,” he said. “Yes, it’s true. No one has left, but they got the eviction notice.”

But asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution if any of the people behind him holding eviction signs had been served with eviction notices, Walker declined to answer and none of the people behind him spoke to reporters.

(A spokesman for Walker’s campaign later explained to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was referring to people in the building, not those arrayed behind him)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Walker urged reporters to go into the building and talk to residents. A security guard prevented the AJC from entering.

A web of interlocking organizations is involved in the building’s ownership and maintenance.

Warnock heads the Ebenezer Building Foundation

The foundation owned the 96-unit building until January 2007, when it sold the property to MLK Village Tower LP for nearly $1.5 million. MLK Village Tower’s partner is MLK Village Corp., which has the same address as the church and shares three of the same principals as the building foundation, records show.

Several stories related to the apartment tower were first reported in a conservative news outlet, The Washington Free Beacon. Since those stories appeared, a conservative watchdog group has filed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to look into whether the Ebenezer Building Foundation was concealing its involvement in the apartments. The Georgia secretary of state’s office also announced it would investigate whether the foundation had filed the paperwork required of a charitable organization.

The apartment building has been the focus of two lawsuits this year from men seeking damages after a metal ceiling grate from the elevator fell on their heads.

Records show nine crimes were reported at the building in the past five years. All were property crimes. There were also seven code complaints in those same five years for things such as leaks and roaches, records show. That is below average for a complex of its size housing low-income residents, according to data reviewed by the AJC.