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Future of apartment complex unknown

On Thursday, the LaGrange City Council received an update on the status of the Tall Pines Apartments, which are currently facing a list of repairs necessary to maintain funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The city council has kept a close eye on the apartment complex, following a series of complaints related to code enforcement inside the complex last year. Apartment management has reportedly made major repairs since then, but council members worry about a worst-case scenario in which the apartment complex suddenly closes, leaving hundreds of citizens homeless.

“In the event that Tall Pines were to be closed at some point by action of HUD, that would displace a lot of families, as we’ve discussed in the past,” Mayor Jim Thornton said. “So, we just want to know what the city staff’s level of preparation was for something along those lines.”

Council Member Mark Mitchell asked if the city could coordinate with Troup County to provide emergency housing if necessary, and a representative from the LaGrange Housing Authority said that as another HUD-funded entity, it could step in to help house the residents. She also said that there should be some provision for moving expenses if necessary. 

LaGrange Fire Department Chief John Brant also spoke on emergency procedures if a large number of residents were suddenly displaced and the property owner was unable to rehouse residents. Council Member Nathan Gaskin said that the potential closure should be treated like a natural disaster.

“We are demanding change, but we are demanding change from a private company, and if they balk and say, ‘hey, we just want out,’ and they displace all those people, we have 200 women and children who are now homeless in our city,” Gaskin said. “I’m looking at this as a disaster, especially when HUD has issued a letter giving them 60 days to comply or they will cut off funding.”

Gaskin emphasized the need for the city to be ready in case the worst-case scenario comes to fruition. 

However, the city has received some indication that a better outcome may be reached. Thornton said he had received a call from the complex’s owner, stating an intention to address the issues identified during a HUD inspection, while appealing the required time frame to make the changes. 

The city has limited enforcement ability in terms of forcing private companies to make changes on their property, but the city did look into a municipal court case to pressure the owner to make repairs. However, city staff felt that there was not a strong enough case based on city code violations. Now, HUD funding requirements could make it necessary for the owners to correct some of the most notable concerns.

“The things that we look for are code and compliance — such as wiring, HVAC [heating and air conditioning], plumbing — that you all [on the city council] recognized,” Community Development Director Alton West said. “In the letter from HUD, the things that they indicate are general housekeeping. If you’ll recall, I brought to your attention at that time [in November 2018] a lot of this stuff that we did identify is general housekeeping.”

West said that the HVAC system has been updated on the apartments since the original concerns were brought to light, and other major repairs have been made. It was also noted during the meeting that, in addition to a change in management at the complex itself, the current owner hopes to sell the property in the near future.