Mary Hall Freedom House, a nonprofit that helps women with homelessness and addiction issues, has bought 33 units of a Sandy Springs condominium complex for use as transitional housing – and possible redevelopment into a larger facility or headquarters. One of the two dozen tenants currently renting those condo units is complaining about the “irony” of losing her home to an organization that helps the homeless.
The purchase, completed on May 3, includes more than a third of the 90-unit Reserve of Dunwoody condos at 9400 Roberts Drive. The condos are about three-quarters of a mile from MHFH’s headquarters at the corner of Roberts and Roswell Road.
MHFH founder Lucy Hall-Gainer said the organization serves about 200 women and 80 children with rented transitional housing in Sandy Springs, Atlanta, Alpharetta, College Park and Roswell. At Reserve of Dunwoody, where many units are owned by investors who rent them out, MHFH was already leasing nine units for its homeless veterans program. Hall-Gainer said that metro Atlanta’s skyrocketing rents are pushing the organization to buy transitional housing units for the first time in its 21-year history.
“It’s gotten to the point of, ‘OK, we literally have to buy,’” Hall-Gainer said.
She said MHFH is considering buying some or all of the remaining units at Reserve of Dunwoody. Asked if that consideration is about using the units as transitional housing or redeveloping the entire site into a new facility, she said “both/and.” The complex is also being eyed as a possible permanent headquarters for MHFH, which currently rents its office space, she said.
Hall-Gainer said that her “priority is to secure the legacy of the organization… Part of that is to secure the home of the organization.”
Meanwhile, 24 of those 33 units at Reserve of Dunwoody are home to residents whose leases MHFH is ending with 60-day notice. One of those residents, Jarita Davis, said she moved in just six months ago and was shocked to learn a homeless-prevention nonprofit was ending her one-year lease.
“This is truly a complete nightmare!!!!” Davis wrote in a May 12 email to MHFH’s board, calling the nonprofit’s decision “cruel and unjust.”
“You’ll evict me from my home, volunteer me to be homeless and poverty-stricken, with a reason to resort to alcohol and drugs, to move in another woman recovering from these things?” Davis wrote.
In an interview, Davis said she can’t afford to move again so soon, especially when MHFH’s lease-ending note said she had to continue paying rent during the 60-day notice period.
“I wish the old saying ‘money grew on trees’ was true,” Davis said. “Taking my rent to house another family is just not acceptable.”
Davis complained about learned of the sale and her lease ending via notes taped to her door that did not fully name MHFH, but rather a new LLC called “Freedom Village,” and a letterhead that said “Freedom House.” She said the contact person listed on the note, who turned out to be MHFH’s operations director, did not return her calls.
Asked about communication issues, Hall-Gainer replied that Davis never contacted her personally, though Hall-Gainer was not named on the notices. Hall-Gainer said she will speak to Davis and acknowledged she had a point.
“She’s right. I work with women to end poverty, homelessness and addiction,” Hall-Gainer said about Davis. “She’s absolutely right. Why would I make somebody homeless?”
However, Hall-Gainer added, some other tenants contacted them with a request to move out even sooner. “Everybody else didn’t have a problem with it,” she said.
MHFH bought the Reserve of Dunwoody units from Florida-based Acorn Development. A company called EGA Realty managed the units for Acorn. Even though Acorn no longer owns the units, EGA’s Roy Stubbs said his company is trying to help the tenants find new apartments “just as a favor and a service to those folks.”
“We’re doing all we can to find them a new place to live,” Stubbs said. “We don’t as a rule work with renters to go find a place to rent… But we do know other agents.”
The common factor that drew both Davis and MHFH to the Reserve of Dunwoody is ever-increasing rents. Davis said she works at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Atlanta and formerly lived in that area, but moved to Sandy Springs as downtown rents rose.
Hall-Gainer said MHFH was paying $900 to $1,000 a month for the nine units it was leasing at Reserve of Dunwoody, and the organization is facing rents of $1,200 to $1,500 a month in other locations. Asked why MHFH couldn’t find vacant units to lease or buy instead of displacing Reserve of Dunwoody tenants, Hall-Gainer cited those rental rates.
“Are you going to find them? How are you going to be lucky?” Hall-Gainer said. “This is the opportunity that presented itself… We will not find anything that is affordable or reasonable.”
Hall-Gainer declined to give the purchase price of the Sandy Springs condos, saying she did not have the exact number immediately available. But she summed up the math: “It’s cheaper than renting.”
MHFH has many funders and donors, including the Sandy Springs Society; the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development; such large corporations as Wells Fargo and Coca-Cola; and the governments of Sandy Springs, Atlanta and Fulton County. Its board of directors chair is Jon Kleinberg, managing director of Southeast investment sales for the major real estate development firm Transwestern, who did not respond to a request for comment.