Cody Thomes isn’t herself anymore.

Her mom says she’s “slower.” She frequently has “episodes” where she passes out for no apparent reason. She forgets things from one moment to the next. She went to Emory’s seizure center, where they told her the only thing they could find wrong with her is a low blood oxygen level. Her hair, dyed pink, is starting to fall out, and she’s tired all the time. It’s gotten to where her 12-year-old son, who has been dealing with his mother’s illness since he was six, is constantly worrying about her, asking his Nana whether she can go in the grocery store by herself.

They think it might be related to radon in their apartment at Southwoods in Morrow. The family says a hazmat team came in a couple of years ago and installed a pipe from their apartment, through their closet, through the apartment above, and out to the roof.

But that wasn’t why Cody contacted The Clayton Crescent. She wanted something done about the hot water, which has been off since before Christmas Eve. Management installed a new hot water heater, but it went out two days later, her sister Adia said. Their mom, Sheron, said the complex told her they were waiting on a part from HD Supply and that it would take three weeks. They told the residents to boil water if they wanted to take a bath.

The bathroom is another issue. Photos show a three-foot-square piece of soaked cardboard where maintenance had cut out a section of the tile floor a couple of years ago. It makes a squishy sound when they step on it.

A saturated cardboard box covers missing tile at the Southwood Apartments in Morrow.

Aida says that, no matter how often she scrubs the mold off the baseboards and the remaining tile floor, the mold comes back in a couple of days.

Mold continually returns to this bathroom floor at Southwood Apartments in Morrow. Other residents report similar issues.

The family has been showering at Sheron’s brother’s house but, she says, their welcome is wearing thin.

Then there’s a former property manager, who Sheron alleges ripped her off when she fell behind on rent. Sheron has lived at the property for 23 years and says she had always paid on time until last year, when she was dealing with her mother’s death. According to Sheron, the property manager told her to make out two money orders, one for $679, the other for $243. (That’s pretty much her entire monthly income.) As usual, Sheron noted the month and the word “rent” in the memo line. But she says the property manager told her to leave the other money order blank and to sign it. Sheron said the woman was later fired. The Clayton Crescent did not find any charges filed against the property manager, who we were not able to reach by phone or e-mail as of press time Tuesday, in Clayton County court records.

That same woman “never showed us the numbers” on the radon readings, Sheron said.

The apartment has other problems, like roaches and holes from a bullet the Thomeses say came from their former next-door neighbors. “She [the former manager] pressured me so bad,” Sheron said. “She asked me, ‘You sure you ain’t got nobody over there with you?'”—implying, Sheron said, that someone in her apartment had fired the gun. She said the Clayton County Police came out, took a look, and declared it a “mystery.” Later, “the boy next door admitted to Adia he put toothpaste in the wall before the police came.”

Sheron had other run-ins with the former property manager. “She kind of threatened me,” she said. When Adia was laid off from one job or another, “she would get another one right away. [The manager] came down and said Adia couldn’t keep changing jobs because she would have to do more paperwork and she would have to charge full rent because HUD would only allow her to have so many jobs.”

She also alleged that the management company did not allow people into a common TV room and had failed to provide a computer room for the children in the community.

Other residents were afraid of repercussions if we used their names. One told The Clayton Crescent, “The elderly people are afraid to talk.” Women who are menstruating complain that they don’t have any way to take a hot shower.

More problems at Southwoods Apartments include:

  • work orders that go unaddressed for two or three years
  • cockroach infestations
  • huge piles of garbage and junk around several dumpsters in the complex
  • large holes in walls
  • no security

Of the 193 units in Southwood Apartments, 163 are “assisted.” The complex is not FHA insured, but does take Section 8 vouchers, which are federally funded by HUD.

One source at HUD, who also did not want to be publicly identified, said, “A lot of the tenants will let the property managers know, and the property managers won’t let us know” about any problems: “They get money from us to house low-income people. They still have to abide by federal standards and guidelines. If they don’t do that, we pull the funding.”

Who’s in charge?

Residents say they have called the Clayton County Health Department, the U.S. Department of Housing an Urban Development, and PK Management, based in Cleveland, OH—all to no avail. The property owner, according to county tax records, is Hampstead Southwood Partners, LP of San Diego. Greg Gossard is listed as the principal and general partner on the Articles of Incorporation filed with the Georgia Secretary of State on October 5, 2017.

The Hampstead Companies, according to their website, “specializ[e] in the creation and preservation of affordable housing.” The site also quotes President Lyndon B. Johnson, architect of the War on Poverty: “The center of our effort is here…the place we all call home.”

According to the site, “Hampstead has long recognized that providing housing alone serves but one aspect of the needs of its residents, as important as addressing that is. Once that basic need is met, residents must be provided with the means to better the lives of their families, grow and to prosper economically.

“Seeing an unmet need and a disconnection between housing and services, Hampstead has formed The Hampstead Foundation, a nonprofit entity tasked with the purpose of enhancing opportunity for its residents.

“The Foundation is not designed to replace the important roles that Hampstead’s local nonprofit and agency partners play as a part of its development teams, but rather as an asset and adjunct there-to.

“For additional information please visit www.thehampsteadfoundation.org.”

The Clayton Crescent has contacted Gossard via e-mail, detailing the conditions at the Southwood Apartments. We also asked for the radon levels and the dates and locations of radon testing in the complex, as well as for details on how $10 million in HUD funding for the complex was spent.

We called a number for residents to contact PK Properties and were transferred to Joyce Walker, “who handles all our public affairs,” according to an employee who answered the phone. Walker is PK Properties’ vice-president of community development. We left a voicemail message for her explaining the issues at the complex.

The Clayton Crescent also contacted Clayton County Chairman Jeff Turner to make him aware of the situation. He inquired with Community Development and with the Clayton County Health District; neither has jurisdiction. The complex gets federal funding and is regulated by HUD’s Atlanta office, while the Clayton County Health District only regulates hotels and motels, not apartment complexes.

At the federal level, Southwood Apartments residents are represented by Congresswoman Nikema Williams and Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. We asked all three members of Congress for more information about how the residents could get help and what HUD could do to fix the problems.

We will update with any further responses.

HUD inspection scores

Every one to three years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inspects the multifamily properties that it funds and scores them from 0 to 100.

Each score also might include a letter or asterisk, which HUD uses to highlight serious issues contributing to a lower score:

  • a: no health and safety deficiencies other than smoke detectors
  • b: One or more non-life-threatening deficiencies but no “exigent” (urgent) or fire safety deficiencies (other than smoke detectors)
  • c: One or more exigent or fire safety deficiencies that require “immediate attention or remedy”
  • *: Smoke detector deficiencies

A check of Southwood Apartments’ HUD Multifamily Inspection Report dated December 20, 2022 shows the complex’s inspection scores have dropped steadily since 2012:

  • September 21, 2012: Southwood Apartments scored 96b.
  • September 21, 2015: Southwood Apartments scored 92c.
  • October 13, 2021: Southwood Apartments scored 72c*.

Earlier this morning, before our interview, Cody had passed out twice in the hallway of her building. Immediately after our interview offsite, she passed out again.

Adia, who works in retail, says she is angry and that she has learned to stand up for her rights the hard way. She has collected paperwork and photos documenting the issues at the complex. And she says nothing will change unless residents stand up and say something.

As this story was going to press, Adia told The Clayton Crescent that someone from PK Management had called her: “I told them what was going on and they said they going to have someone contact me.”

Earlier today, she said, “I could be a lawyer.”

Robin Kemp

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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