Women and children stand outside apartment complex

After Thursday’s shootout at the Maple Lake Apartments across from 7 Pillars Career Academy, The Clayton Crescent looked into who’s responsible for the Maple Lake apartments and discovered a lot of Canadian money behind the complex.

Last month, 60 Minutes reported on Tricon, a Canadian real estate investment company that “has quietly become one of the largest owners of single-family homes in the United States.”

Another Canadian company, Sarmaya Capital, has specifically targeted apartment complexes in Clayton County and the Southern Crescent—but Sarmaya doesn’t show up on county property tax rolls.

While local officials tout economic development, the money for that development almost never comes from Clayton County. That puts local residents in the position of working for and living in the properties of wealthy outsiders, who are invested on paper (and perhaps in politicians) but not in the intangible relationships with everyday people who live here.

Investors sometimes promise amenities when it comes down to closing the deal, citing a desire to “give back” to the community or to offer “affordable housing” for at-risk residents. Sometimes they make good on their promises. Sometimes they don’t.

Kids on lockdown

Students at 7 Pillars Career Academy take part in hands-on learning. (Photo: 7 Pillars Career Academy)

The head of school for 7 Pillars Career Academy says Thursday’s shootout was not the first time the school has had to deal with unrest at the Maple Lake apartment complex.

“There have been domestic altercations from the same incident that have spilled over to our campus,” Christina Guillen told The Clayton Crescent. “The school has reached out to apartment management, but they have shared they are not responsible for the actions of their tenants.”

The charter school, which serves 124 students, is well-regarded within the local community. Guillen said 7 Pillars will double its enrollment to 240 for the 2022-2023 academic year, and will be moving to Morrow High School’s current building. That’s about five and a half miles and a 15-minute drive from the current location.

According to Guillen, there was some question about which police department was supposed to respond to the shootout, which is on the border of Forest Park Police and Clayton County Police departments and fell into CCPD’s jurisdiction.

“The first shots were heard by staff at 10:52 a.m. yesterday, but due to there being construction in the area, we were not sure if it was gunfire,” Guillen said. “We called Forest Park PD and they said they have no record of shots fired in their jurisdiction. When we provided the address, they said they believe shots had been fired at the apartment across the street, but that is not their jurisdiction so we would have to call Clayton County Police Department. We then called CCPD and they confirmed shooting across the street.”

Guillen said the school went into lockdown 22 minutes later at 11:14 a.m. until 12:16 p.m.

“Parents were notified by calling post, memo at pick-up, and an update in our newsletter,” she said. “The school day was not shortened.”

Who owns the complex?

County property tax records show Maple Lake is a $5.9-million complex owned by Lotus Lake Group, LLC, of San Diego, CA. The company was incorporated in Georgia in 2015 by Jing-Yu Lai and the registered agent is H. Joseph Beasley of Riverdale.

Maple Lakes puts a lot of tax dollars into Clayton County’s coffers. In 2020, Lotus Lake Group paid $43,242.60 in county property taxes. In 2021, it paid $91,227.58. Starting prices for rents are advertised as $997 for one bedroom, $1,129 for two bedrooms, and $1,394 for three bedrooms, with no deposit “with subscription to the Lease Lock waiver program.”

Canadian company heavily invested locally

The sign in front of the apartment notes Maple Lake is “a Sarmaya Community.” Sarmaya Capital Corporation is based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. According to Sarmaya’s website, the company’s vision “is to revolutionize the Real Estate Investment and Residential Tenant experience simultaneously, by aligning the interests of investors with those of tenants to do well and to do good at the same time. With the belief that safer, nicer and better managed communities improve lives but also improve returns in the long run, Sarmaya Capital Corp. strives to be on the forefront of active investment and to change the landscape of Residential Real Estate.”

According to a paid feature in the September 14, 2021 Financial Post, Sarmaya is investing heavily in metro Atlanta real estate. The owners say they want to improve the quality of life for low-income apartment residents.

Paid features are generally the province of some business magazines and are not generally accepted ethical journalistic practice for news organizations. They are non-critical public relations or promotional features, presented to look like regular news stories, that companies or individuals pay to have published.

But the article also specifically mentioned “Maple Lake, GA”—apparently a reference to the Maple Lake complex on Hendrix Drive—promising an “education center” and a slew of amenities for residents.

Yardi/Matrix map of the hottest multifamily submarkets in metro Atlanta as of January 2022. The top 5 are all in Clayton County and the Southern Crescent.

It’s a landlord’s market

Northern Clayton County and the Southern Crescent make up Atlanta’s five hottest multifamily submarkets right now, in this order, according to Yardi/Matrix’s January 2022 report:

1: College Park/Hartsfield Jackson International
2: West Riverdale
3: East Riverdale
4: Forest Park
5: East Point/Hapeville

Sarmaya has specifically targeted apartment complexes in Clayton County for investment, the Financial Post wrote:

With the help of a partner on the ground in Georgia, Joe Harker, they determined Atlanta hit the key points for Sarmaya’s metrics: it’s a large metropolitan area with good population growth, solid infrastructure and large employment hubs to sustain population growth.

Among those hubs are the Gillem Logistics Center, a massive former U.S. army base; and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which was the world’s busiest in 2019, with 110 million passengers moving through it.

One of those properties was Stonegate Townhomes in Riverdale. The article said Sarmaya was paying $12 million. Anotheer was Hidden Cove in East Lake (now rebranded as Stanton Yards by ARIUM), according to a video posted to Twitter in 2019 by CEO Alex Yamini:

The new-build, standalone facility will serve more than a hundred residents and feature a mini library and computer stations, especially important for children who don’t have access to a computer at home on which to do schoolwork. (Wi-Fi is also available throughout the property.)

“We’re trying to provide better communities, change lives for the better with lower-income tenants,” emphasizes Cockburn.

Investors are looking to make money,” he says. “But it’s not always just about making money. Are you having an impact?”

Who’s in charge here?

When the property owner lives in another state or country, how can residents make their concerns known?

The job falls to local police, code enforcement, zoning, and elected officials to restore order.

People in Clayton County can’t invest directly in Sarmaya unless they are high-net-worth individuals—much higher than most people who live here and certainly out of the reach of tenants and residents in the immediate area.

Despite Sarmaya’s investments in Clayton County, the company’s name doesn’t come up in county real estate records. What Sarmaya does is look for complexes to invest in and fix up, with the goal of charging higher rents. The company says it also looks to improve the quality of life for tenants. As leases expire, the company schedules rehabs. Right now, according to Maple Lake’s website, 14 two-bedroom apartments are empty.

The Clayton Crescent called the number on the complex’s website and got a recording that the number was out of service. We then emailed the complex using the online contact form. The autoresponse came from Cushman and Wakefield, a $9.4-billion global commercial real estate firm.

We’ve e-mailed Lotus Lake Group, LLC’s Jing-Yu Lai to ask whether the complex will step up security, as well as whether any tenants have been evicted for creating disturbances in the past year.

We’ve also e-mailed Sarmaya directly, asking them what the company plans to do to cut down on disturbances to the neighboring school and churches. and whether they have delivered on the Maple Lake library, computer stations, and wi-fi. We’ll update with any response.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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