2 Investigates: Rodents, sewage found at federally funded apartments

ATLANTA — Rodents, mold and sewage -- just feet from where children play.

Channel 2’s Rachel Stockman investigated the questionable conditions of metro area apartments that are paid for by taxpayers.

Despite receiving poor inspection scores from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, owners of Section 8 project-based housing continue to operate facilities in poor conditions.

“I’m homeless right now. I moved out to be homeless,” said Lisa Lay, former Forest Cove resident. “I'd rather live with a family member than to stay in my own apartment.”

Lay explained to Stockman that she could no longer live in her southwest Atlanta apartment because of the housing conditions. Current residents would not speak to Stockman for fear of retaliation by management.

Some tenants said they knew of other residents who were evicted after speaking to the media.

“So if you complain to the media and code enforcement, they kick you out?” Stockman asked Lay.

“Yes, yes,” she replied. “As a community we're scared to stand as one because we are scared to lose what we do have.”

After this story originally aired, The Columbia Group, the firm that manages the Forest Cove Community, said Lay misrepresented herself to Channel 2. Management said Lay is no longer a resident at Forest Cove because she was evicted from her apartment due other documented issues.

Channel 2 investigators saw building siding and ceiling tiles peeling from many of the buildings in the Forest Cove community. Garbage and stagnant green water were feet from playing children.

HUD saw problems with the apartment community as well. A 109-page inspection report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that HUD inspectors noted many health and safety concerns at the Forest Cove Apartments.

The inspection report cited problem after problem, including numerous incidents of roaches, unusable fire exits, windows that could not be opened or locked, and broken smoke detectors.

The property received a failing score of 31 out of 100 last November, according to the HUD report.

“In your opinion, are some of these units unlivable?” Stockman asked Maggie Kinnear of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

“Yes, some of them are,” she said.

Kinnear said these types of subsidized housing units are often in terrible condition. She represents many tenants who claimed they were living in deplorable conditions with nowhere else to go. Kinnear also said many tenants contacted her anonymously about their living conditions for fear of retaliation.

“From what we can tell, HUD does not seem to evoke the penalties it has at its disposal,” Kinnear said.

Taxpayer money for housing projects goes directly to the apartments' owners, unlike the traditional Section 8 voucher, which is given to individual tenants.

Forest Cove is owned by nonprofit Global Ministries.

According to its website, Tennessee-based Global Ministries owns section 8 properties in eight states.

Channel 2’s sister station in Memphis, WHBQ, and local code enforcement inspectors noted poor housing conditions at Global Ministries’ housing development there and reported they were in need of repair.

Despite the poor condition, Richard Hamlet received compensation of $485,000 in 2013 for running the nonprofit, according to tax records.

“The reason why I’m in this business, my mission, is take care of these folks,” Rev. Hamlet told WHBQ’s Matt Gerien, “Yes, I’m compensated for my services. Nonprofits have to have people at our level that have to have that kind of competence and mission.”

Hamlet referred Channel 2 Action News to his management company, which declined our request to speak about their inspection scores, but Brian Stephens with Global Ministries sent us this statement.

“Global Ministries Foundation bought this property in February of 2014. Since then we have spent nearly $2 million on site improvements. We failed the Reac (HUD inspection) in November 2014 as work was in still in progress. We had [a] re-inspection earlier this month and we are awaiting final official score. I think it's important to note that Crime calls and incidents at FC have decreased in our initial 18 months of ownership , with our increased site security plan but we still have lots left to achieve.”

The complaints about conditions at project-based Section 8 housing in Atlanta don’t stop at Forest Cove.

A resident tried to show Stockman bedbugs and other problems in his unit at the City View Apartments at Rosa Burney Park. However, a maintenance worker met the news crew at the elevator of the apartment and told the tenant they were not allowed on the property.

The resident ultimately said he didn’t “want any trouble” and did not take Stockman into his apartment.

A manager at the complex later told Channel 2 by phone they work to fix issues like this within days of a complaint.

Although Capitol Vanira Apartments, located near the new Falcons stadium, received a passing score on its latest inspection from HUD, residents held a meeting to discuss what they call terrible conditions.

Only a handful of tenants were present at the meeting. The residents told Channel 2 they hoped speaking openly about the apartment complex’s conditions would force management to improve conditions.

“They're scared to come to tenants association meetings, they're scared to come out their door,” Mar Raven, a Capitol Vanira resident, said of the other tenants. “Half of them are scared to come because they don't pay no rent and figuring if they don't pay no rent they're going to get pushed out.”

One resident provided Channel 2 with pictures of what appeared to be mold or mildew covered walls and exposed pipes. Other complaints included rodent infestation and crime in the community.

Management told Channel 2 the complex is scheduled to be renovated in the coming year, and maintenance issues are also quickly addressed.

But Kinnear said these fixes are often band aids, and the real priority should be holding the federal housing agency responsible for keeping owners in check.

“Do you think some of these tenants are scared to say anything about the conditions for fear they might be evicted?” Stockman asked Kinnear.

“I’m sure some of them are,” Kinnear said. “Yes, I’m sure.”

After weeks of trying to arrange an on-camera interview with officials in the Atlanta division of HUD, the federal agency ultimately declined to speak with Channel 2 on the record. They provided Stockman with this statement.