At a meeting Tuesday night with Hickory Lakes management company First Communities Management, frustrated residents sounded off about the city of Smyrna's plan to purchase and raze the crime-ridden, 726-unit complex off Old Concord Road near Windy Hill Road and South Cobb Drive. Another meeting hosted by the city is scheduled for tonight.
Hickory Lakes resident Rosemary Maruish said Tuesday's meeting at Welcome All Baptist Church located off Old Concord Road became heated.
"They had a lot of residents wound up," Maruish said, noting that the church's gymnasium, where the meeting was conducted, was packed with residents concerned about the future of their homes. "I was surprised with the rain pouring down like it was, I didn't expect that many people. I guess when your home is threatened you'll do anything. We had people who said they took off work to be there."
Maruish said many of the residents at Hickory Lakes are on fixed incomes, with children, and can't afford moving. She said she and several other residents would like to see the city help pay for residents' moving costs.
"When the city of Marietta shut down the projects, each person was given a voucher and $1,000," Maruish said. "If they're giving $9.4 million for the property and $4 million to tear it down, why can't they help us? This just seems like the city of Smyrna did a poor job, or no job at all, of researching this project. They think that they can throw us away along with the building."
Another Hickory Lakes resident who has lived in the complex for three years said Tuesday night's meeting was "terrible - the people were very upset."
Talking with the Journal outside her apartment Wednesday, the woman, who did not want to give her name because she said management had told all residents to not talk to the media, said she thinks it would be fair for tenants to receive two free months of rent in order to find another place to live.
She said management has told people that if they try to move out before their leases are up, it would be considered a breach of contract and would affect their credit scores.
"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," she said. "And this is right around Christmastime."
She said about 150 people attended Tuesday's tense meeting, in which she said there were about 20 police officers.
"One lady said, 'I'm going to end up on the streets with my kids,'" she said.
The resident also said she had talked with a lady who just signed a lease in October without knowledge that the complex is slated to be demolished.
"They just took her money knowing they are going to sell it," she said.
Journal reporters attempted to speak to the property managers working in the leasing office at Hickory Lakes on Wednesday, but were told to call First Communities Management headquarters. A call to Cathy Lucas, the regional manager at First Communities Management, went unreturned on Wednesday.
Smyrna City Council voted Oct. 5 to buy the 94-building apartment complex, which sits on 48 acres of land in northwest Smyrna, for $9.5 million. The Smyrna Downtown Development Authority plans to issue revenue bonds to cover the purchase and demolition of the complex. Razing the buildings is expected to cost the city $4 million.
The city is having an informational meeting about the purchase of Hickory Lakes tonight at 7 at the Smyrna Community Center. Smyrna spokeswoman Jennifer Bennett said First Communities also plans to have further informational meetings for its residents.
Maruish said the management company said it plans to hold an apartment fair at the Welcome All Baptist Church to help citizens find apartment complexes to move into.
Smyrna expects to close on the property by Dec. 15. Bennett said, according to Hickory Lakes leases, it would have to give residents at least 30 days notice to move out of the property, but she said the city hopes to give them longer than that.
When asked if the city was considering helping Hickory Lakes residents relocate, Bennett said the city is trying to work out some kind of incentive, but she said it was too early to specify what that would mean.
"Right now the city is looking at some incentive - probably not cash to move," Bennett said.
Marietta Housing Authority Executive Director Ray Buday said the city is not legally obligated to financially assist residents to relocate. He likened the situation at Hickory Lakes to when the city of Marietta purchased Preston Chase apartments on Franklin Road in February. In the case of Preston Chase, Marietta City Council contracted with MHA to help relocate tenants, although they did not provide any monetary help.
"If it's like Preston Chase, they should not be required to offer moving expenses legally, but it's up to them," Buday said.
In the past, MHA has torn down various housing projects and offered tenants vouchers and moving expenses to relocate within Cobb, Buday explained. But that money came from the U.S. Department of Federal Housing and Urban Development, and was given to public housing residents.