Dozens of Athens residents face rent increases and evictions this month

About two dozen activists and residents of Athens gathered in Lexington Heights on Wednesday to express their shock and outrage at the impending mass displacement.

The move comes after Florida-based investment firm Prosperity Capital Partners bought more than 500 apartments and condos in Athens. At the end of June, the property management company Strategic Management Partners notified dozens of residents that the rent would increase by several hundred dollars and that their leases would not be renewed.

Community organizers say the sudden increase affected at least 30 tenants in Lexington Heights, Highland Park, Rosemary Place and Hidden Pines. Residents who have been offered lease renewals allege new obstacles to keeping their apartments: their landlords now require declared incomes greater than three times the new rent, as well as rental insurance and no outstanding payments. Additionally, Strategic Management Partners no longer accepts Section 8 bonds.

Residents now face a dire situation: either pay the new rent or leave.

Highland Park resident Juana Hulin speaks at a press conference hosted by tenants of Lexington Heights, Highland Park, Rosemary Place and Hidden Pines to present demands to Prosperity Capital Partners and Strategic Management in Athens, Georgia , Wednesday August 18 June 31, 2022. At the end of June, dozens of tenants received letters informing them that their leases were not being renewed, that rents would be significantly increased and that section 8 housing checks would no longer be accepted.

Residents speak out

Juana Hulin has lived in Highland Park for five years. On August 1, she learned that her rent would more than double from September 1.

“My rent went from $825 to $1,700 for a two-bedroom apartment,” she said at the press conference.

Hulin is a single working mother with three daughters. The prospect of moving weighs on his family.

“Clark County School District had just started school. I got this letter two weeks into school. And my kids are nervous now. And they’re very stressed out about whether they’re going to have to move. in the middle of a given school year,” she said.

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Other tenants spoke of their own difficulties. A tenant, who declined to be named, has a disability and recent surgery.

“And I caught COVID coming and going trying to find a place to stay,” she said.

“Athens and Clarke County already have a homelessness crisis. And if me and my three daughters don’t find the $1,700, we’ll be homeless. I don’t have any family I can live with,” Hulin said. “I couldn’t sleep. And I was very stressed. It was a burden on my heart to bear every day.”

A protest sign addressed to Randy Lawrence, the co-owner of Prosperity Capital Partners, at a press conference held by tenants of Lexington Heights, Highland Park, Rosemary Place and Hidden Pines to present demands to Prosperity Capital Partners and Strategic Management in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. In late June, dozens of tenants received letters advising them that their leases were not being renewed, rent would be significantly increased, and Section 8 housing vouchers would no longer be accepted.

Who is Prosperity Capital?

Prosperity Capital Partners is led by Randy Lawrence, a real estate investor with a church background. On his website “The Real Estate Preacher,” Lawrence said his real estate portfolio is currently valued at $100 million.

Neither Prosperity Capital Partners nor Strategic Management Partners could immediately be reached for comment. But activists say his Christian background stands in stark contrast to the upcoming move.

“It just lacks respect for human life and human dignity,” said Broderick Flanigan, a community organizer with the Economic Justice Coalition. “For them to be former pastors or former ministers and have a church in the past in Florida, still treat people like that.”

Since residents received the letters, Athenians have put off buying real estate. County Commissioner Tim Denson released an open letter imploring Prosperity Capital Partners to reconsider. As of this writing, Prosperity Capital Partners has an average of 1.1 stars on Google Reviews, with many reviewers objecting to rent increases.

“These people are not from Athens, not from this community, not even from the state of Georgia. And they are potentially pushing people out of their homes,” Flanigan said.

What happens now?

“The unfortunate part of this is that nothing this company does is illegal or against the law,” Flanigan said.

In Georgia, there is no law preventing landlords from dramatically increasing rent or refusing to honor Section 8 bonds. Activists and local politicians have discussed introducing measures to protect class tenants factory Girl. But laws take time, and a backlash from the state legislature is likely.

At least one tenant, Barbara Daniel, alleges her landlord only gave her 30 days notice. Strategic Property Management sent her a letter on June 30 saying she had to leave by July 31. State law requires at least 60 days notice. When she confronted Strategic Property Management about it, they relented, saying her deadline had always been August 31.

Discarded belongings sit on the sidewalk outside a duplex in Lexington Heights that was sold to Prosperity Capital Partners and Strategic Management over the summer in Athens, Georgia, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Late June , dozens of tenants received letters informing them that their leases were not being renewed, the rent would be significantly increased and section 8 housing checks would no longer be accepted.  Residents started moving today.

Public resources are hard to come by.

“We have different services like Advantage with the rapid relocation program, but they’re at full capacity, most of them. And you have to be on Advantage’s workload to be in their programs,” he said. -he declares. “You know, homeless shelters, most of them are at capacity.”

For now, organizers are focusing on meeting the immediate needs of tenants through relocation assistance, legal support and mutual assistance. They are also looking for affordable housing.

“We want to collect names of people who are willing to rent to low-income people,” Flanigan said. “We urge the community to come together to determine where people can go.”

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