The Belle Isle Apartments at 151 West Belle Isle Road are closing at the end of July. (Evelyn Andrews)

Residents are moving out of the last traditional public housing in Fulton County – a nine-unit apartment building in Sandy Springs – as a long-planned sale closes this month.

Robert Harris, a 78-year-old resident of the apartments, said he has not been able to find a new place to live yet as the move date of July 30 quickly approaches.

“It’s looking hopeless right now,” said Harris, who has lived in the apartments for 17 years.

The aging Belle Isle Apartments at 151 West Belle Isle Road were originally planned in 2015 to be torn down and turned into parking spaces needed for an expansion of the neighboring Fountain Oak shopping center’s Kroger supermarket. Kroger has now killed the expansion plan and started a renovation, but the apartment sale is moving ahead. The fate of the apartments is unclear except that the Housing Authority of Fulton County is closing them down as public housing.

The residents are “in the process of moving out,” said Teresa Davis, an official at the Housing Authority. Residents are receiving subsidized-housing vouchers to use at complexes that accept them, and the county will pay for moving expenses and deposits, she said. Davis said she did not know the exact number of residents forced to move.

The Kroger grocery store in the Fountain Oaks shopping center at 4920 Roswell Road are slated for renovation. (Evelyn Andrews)

EDENS, Inc., the company that owns Fountain Oaks at 4920 Roswell Road in southern Sandy Springs, did not respond to questions about its plans for the apartment site. State officials and an attorney for EDENS and Kroger previously said the site has groundwater contamination from a nearby dry cleaning business and cleanup was part of the deal. EDENS and Kroger originally planned to tear down the apartment building, use it as construction staging for the expansion, then turn the site into parking spaces, a use that requires a lower level of pollution cleanup, according to state officials.

A Sandy Springs zoning moratorium slowed the plan, and Kroger has shifted its business plan. “Renovations have begun at the Fountain Oaks Kroger and the store will no longer be expanded,” said Felix B. Turner, a spokesperson for Kroger’s Atlanta office, adding he does not know the plans for the apartment building site.

Besides various interior design changes and upgrades, Turner said, the Fountain Oaks Kroger will get an expanded fuel station and will start using the supermarket’s “ClickList” online grocery ordering and pickup system.

Robert Harris, who has lived at the apartments for 17 years, is preparing to move out by July 30, although he has not found a permanent residence yet. (Evelyn Andrews)

Harris doesn’t feel he’s received sufficient help from the county, but said he understands the office is operating on limited resources. Although he does not have a problem with the possibility the apartments could be demolished for parking, he said he wished the county offered more assistance in finding a new place.

In this system, the residents are offered vouchers are sent to find housing on their own, which Harris said was akin to a “wild goose chase.”

“I’ve adjusted to progress,” he said. “The thing I have a problem with is we were promised we would be looked after.”

The Belle Isle Apartments are the last in Fulton where the county is the landlord and offers deeply affordable rents. At the time the sale deal was struck in 2015, the rent was capped at $350 per month, and the wait list for the nine units had 1,029 people on it.

Regardless of the Kroger plan, the Housing Authority sought to sell the apartments, starting the process in 2013. The building was aging and too expensive to maintain, the agency said.

Another resident who has lived in the apartments for years said the building was already in poor condition and needs to be demolished. But the resident, who is asked not to be named, is struggling with having to move her children out of the schools they attend and into a new community.

All the housing that would keep them zoned for the same schools is out of her price range, she said.

“My children grew up out here, but there are no options to stay up here,” she said. “It’s really going to be a big adjustment.”

The Housing Authority is involved in running one other subsidized housing building, also in Sandy Springs: the 100-unit Sterling Place complex at 144 Allen Road for seniors and people with disabilities. Formerly a traditional public housing building, it was renovated and converted in 2016 to a public-private ownership that accepts subsidized housing vouchers.

The backdrop of the public housing changes is policy shifts at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency has sought to shutter traditional public housing like Belle Isle, and move to vouchers and mixed-income projects. However, voucher funding is scant and Fulton has long wait lists for them as well as market rents skyrocket.

–John Ruch and Evelyn Andrews

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.