At a civic forum at Cross Keys High School, officials from the city of Brookhaven assured residents they are working to improve living conditions and infrastructure around Buford Highway.
During the March 19 forum, hosted by the Cross Keys Foundation, Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis, City Councilman Joe Gebbia, City Manager Marie Garrett, and DeKalb Board of Education Representative Marshall Orson took questions from residents about the school system and the new city.
One woman asked if people who live in apartment buildings can report issues like potholes in roads or poor conditions in apartments to the city.
“You have the absolute right to report any problem.” Davis said. “Don’t let anybody tell you you do not have the right. You live in the city of Brookhaven.”
He said one of the main reasons people voted to incorporate a city was to create a smaller, more responsive local government.
“What we’re dealing with is life and safety. That’s our charge as a government,” Gebbia said.
Mayra Garcia, who served as an interpreter for a few other residents, said major maintenance issues reported to the landlords of Buford Highway apartments often go ignored.
City Manager Marie Garrett said the city recently condemned an apartment that was unsafe. She said a resident asked city officials to look at a large hole in the floor that had been neglected by the apartment management.
The conversation at the civic forum followed a March 12 City Council discussion about the city’s code compliance sweeps and inspection policy that will allow the city to begin bringing many aging apartment buildings within the city’s boundaries up to code.
The city currently plans to inspect one apartment building per month. But in order to reach all 72 complexes in the city this year, officials hope to find funding to bump that number to four buildings per week.
The inspection program is set to begin after apartment complexes pay occupation taxes April 15.
The city of Brookhaven will inspect the outside and common areas of buildings and common areas to make sure they meet the city’s code. Inspectors will look for things such as grills on patios, which are a fire hazard, broken windows, or loose wires.
Officials initially discussed providing apartment management with five days’ notice before a city inspection.
“We don’t want to approach it as if we’re trying to catch them,” said Councilman Bates Mattison. “I don’t want us to give up our ability to look out for the life safety of those residents. But it’s a partnership.”
Davis said he thought five days was too long. A shorter notice, he said, would provide a more accurate picture of typical conditions.
“You want to see what their regular practices are. You don’t want to cover them temporarily,” Davis said.
The city settled on providing 48 hours’ notice before an inspection to apartment management. Management will be required to alert residents of inspections 24 hours in advance.
Typically, the interiors of apartment buildings are inspected in five-year cycles, with owners paying to have 20 percent of the units inspected by an independent contractor each year.
Council members agreed they’d like to move more quickly with inspections, “especially in light of the aging inventory of this stock we have,” Gebbia said.
Councilman Jim Eyre said a standard five-year cycle would be fine in cities such as Roswell or Johns Creek, where the majority of apartment buildings are relatively new. But Brookhaven has many older apartment complexes that should have the interiors inspected more aggressively, he said.
The council decided to go with a three-year cycle, where about 33 percent of units will be inspected each year.
Kim Gokce, president of the Cross Keys Foundation, said he organized the March 19 forum after several elected officials asked him how they could get introduced to the community around Cross Keys High School. “We think it’s very important, the conversation they’ve asked for,” Gokce said.
Cross Keys, located on North Druid Hills Road, is a diverse school that draws heavily from the immigrant populations in neighborhoods near Buford Highway.
According to the school’s website, Cross Keys is the most culturally diverse high school in Georgia, enrolling students from 65 countries who speak 75 different languages.
Officials told residents they are committed to helping Cross Keys High School and the surrounding community, which they said has often been neglected by local government.
Davis said he’d like for the city and DeKalb County Schools to allocate funds to beautify the exterior of the school.
“We need a little more help for Cross Keys,” Davis said. “I hope the city of Brookhaven can be a partner to make sure Cross Keys improves. We want to be an advocate for people when it comes to schools.”
Orson, who represents District 2 on the DeKalb County Board of Education, echoed the statements about Cross Keys.
“You have a great school here but it’s one that hasn’t been given the attention it needs or deserves in the DeKalb County School System,” he said.
Monique Wharton, a teacher at the school and longtime Brookhaven resident, thanked the officials for taking the time to visit Cross Keys.
“We have been forgotten. We have been ignored and felt like the lost children of an entire county,” she said.