ATLANTA–A low income apartment building that Raphael Warnock owns is plagued with pests, maintenance issues, and filth according to residents. At least two people sued the building after the elevator collapsed.
Columbia Tower residents at MLK Village complained about the living conditions. They told the Washington Free Beacon they complain that trash is left in storage rooms for days creating an “overwhelming garbage smell”, common areas are neglected and air vents create a “sickening amount” of dust.
Tenants reported that elevators frequently fail, and residents with disabilities have had to call 911 to get their rooms moved.
These allegations are based on a Free Beacon report which found Columbia Tower attempted to evict eight low-income residents for unpaid rent. One tenant owed $28. According to records obtained from the Free Beacon, Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Through a charity called the Ebenezer Building Fund, 99 percent of Columbia Tower is owned by Warnock. It is not clear what Warnock was responsible for overseeing Columbia Tower. According to a repair grant filed by Ebenezer Building Foundation in June, Warnock said that he “works closely” with Ebenezer’s executive pastor “in managing overall vision, ministries and operations of the church.”
Warnock has been a campaigner as an ally for low-income Georgians, and people with disabilities. This news raises concerns. This could also raise questions about Warnock’s compensation received from the church. He was paid a $7,417 per-month, tax-free, housing allowance last year. This arrangement allowed Warnock to bypass federal income limits for U.S senators.
The Free Beacon has reviewed court filings and found that Columbia Tower residents are claiming there are problems with their living conditions.
In February and May this year, two men filed separate lawsuits against it. They claimed they were hurt when the elevator ceiling fell on them in May 2020.
One of the victims claimed that he was in Columbia at MLK Village Towers when the elevator ceiling suddenly fell down. He was unconscious, which left him with injuries that cost him more than $50,000.
According to the lawsuit, “The plaintiff was struck by the elevator ceiling.” The Plaintiff lost consciousness immediately after the elevator ceiling fell.
After Columbia Tower lawyers failed to respond within the deadline, the judge gave the man default judgment. The attorneys representing the building are trying to have the judgment reversed. The second case is ongoing. The attorney representing the victim claimed that he could not comment on this case as it is still being litigated.
A Free Beacon reporter visited the building in October and was told by residents that the elevators were the only ones in the building that frequently fail. One resident claimed that she witnessed firefighters lifting wheelchair-bound tenants to their rooms when both elevators failed at the same moment.
One resident stated that the firemen would come to help them up and down stairs. “For hours, they are stuck waiting on the bottom floor or on their floors for hours and hours.”
Another resident shared a story about an incident where a police officer was forced to help a disabled African-American man climb the stairs.
Multiple requests for comment from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department asking whether firefighters were called to Columbia Tower to transport people to their rooms have not been returned. Open records requests for copies of all incident reports from Columbia Tower since 2020 have not been returned by the fire department.
Residents claimed they didn’t know their building belonged to Ebenezer Baptist Church or that the Georgia government had just granted $5 million in August to help fund repairs. The state provided funds from the American Rescue Plan to finance the grant, which Warnock voted for in March 2021.
It’s not being seen. A resident stated that they will cut the grass, trim the bushes and sometimes fix the elevator. “But the vents aren’t been blown off for many years. It’s quite sickening.
“They make the furniture new. Although the furniture has changed since I moved in, it is still the same or newer than when I first moved in. The resident said that she has not seen any improvements or similar.
According to audited financial statements obtained from the free beacon, Ebenezer ended 2021 having more than $1.2 million in cash and “cash alternatives.” The financial statements reveal that the church received $4.3 million in “general undesignated offering” and $202,000 in rental income throughout 2021.
In 2021, Ebenezer also paid Warnock $120 964 in salary and housing benefits during his time in the Senate. The financial statements reveal that Ebenezer spent just over $69,000 on “repairs, maintenance” expenses in the same year. This included support services and pastoral services.
Warnock’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Columbia Tower residents voiced concerns about their living conditions.
One resident stated that there is a strong smell in the area. The trash room is filled with a strong trash smell. It inundates you as soon as you enter the building. It’s right in front of you. It’s embarrassing.
Each floor of the 12-story building features a garbage chute that connects to the trash area on the bottom floor. Residents claim that nobody takes out trash on weekends. Residents claim that the trash room fills up quickly with waste because there are 96 rooms within the building.
They’ll be gone on Friday and the trash chute will reach the 12th floor. The resident stated that they won’t return until Monday to clean it up.
Another resident who lives on the 1st floor near the waste area said that the smell of trash was “so horrible and ridiculous”.
Photo of the trash room at Columbia Tower at MLK Village provided by building resident
Photo of the trash room at Columbia Tower at MLK Village provided by building resident
One resident described the horrible conditions she lived in next to her ex-neighbor, who she claimed suffered from schizophrenia.
“We complained. There were odors coming from the apartment. He didn’t clean. Maintenance didn’t want him to enter. The pests were not to be ignored. The resident stated that he was infested by pests living nearby. “People were complaining so much that they had to get someone in to clean it up.”
There is a lot to do when it comes office management and the upkeep of the buildings. The resident stated that they cannot keep anyone and the building up.
The building’s elderly residents, who are mostly seniors, say that they will not have regular maintenance staff and will need to pool their resources and labor to maintain common areas.
Columbia Residential claims that their website apartment features a community garden. However, one resident stated that the garden is often littered with trash. When a Free Beacon reporter visited this property, the garden was nothing but a plot with dirt and weeds.
Columbia Tower’s “community garden”
Ebenezer acknowledged that the building’s poor maintenance was a concern when it applied to Georgia for $5 million to help fund repairs.
Ebenezer stated in the grant application that “The rising cost of capital repairs at this property is impacting residents’ lives, making it increasingly difficult for them to fund the necessary resident services and maintaining housing stability for this vulnerable, previously homeless population.” “This grant request was made to repair the building and to preserve the ability of the specific population to house and serve it.
In its grant application, the Ebenezer Building Foundation also mentioned problems with Columbia Tower’s elevators. They wrote that these “failures” are increasing in frequency.
The group stated that it can take several days to repair an elevator, and is therefore detrimental to residents.
Columbia Tower’s lawyer suggested that the elevator was damaged due to an individual in a court filing. Columbia Tower’s attorney stated that the “issue with elevator” could have been caused by individuals who used the elevator right before the plaintiff.
Columbia Residential informed the Free Beacon, that Ebenezer had “contracted with Columbia Residential property managers to manage the property’s day-to-day operations on their behalf.” Columbia Tower’s daily operations are managed by Columbia Residential property management.
Columbia Residential explained to the Free that the owners applied for the Georgia Investments in Housing grant because of the property’s age and need for capital repairs. They also wanted to keep rents affordable for extremely low-income tenants.
In late August, Brian Kemp, Georgia Republican governor, awarded Ebenezer a grant. It will be used for building repairs and to install LED lighting, replace all toilets with low flow systems, and upgrade major appliances to energy star standards.
Filth, Pests and Killer Elevators
Megan Varner photo