Athena Parker speaks about conditions at The Darlington apartments at a Sept. 17 rally. (Evelyn Andrews)

Residents at Buckhead’s Darlington apartments rallied Sept. 17 to voice concerns about deteriorating conditions and their struggles to find new housing after the complex owner notified all residents they had 60 days to vacate.

In August, renters at the Darlington, one of the few affordable apartment complexes in Buckhead, said they were surprised with a letter left at their doors that said they had to vacate their units by Oct. 17. Varden Capital Properties, the developer that purchased the building about a year ago, plans to renovate the complex, but has released few details and has not responded to requests for comment.

Participants at the rally spoke about conditions at the apartment while holding signs that said “people before profit” and “housing is human right.” They later walked to the sidewalk at Peachtree Road and chanted as cars drove by. 

Residents complained the air conditioning was broken for three weeks. Once that was fixed, the hot water stopped working, they said. Most at the rally said they are not trying to stay at the apartment and don’t plan to return once the renovations are done, but want more moving assistance from the owner.

The apartment complex, located at 2025 Peachtree Road, is famous for its “Atlanta Population Now” sign, which has been tracking the population since 1965. TriBridge Residential sold the property to Varden for $30 million in April 2017, according to Fulton County property records.

The Sandy Springs-based developer is known for renovating affordable complexes into “luxury” units. Varden has purchased and renovated approximately 18,000 units in the Southeast since 2012, according to its website, but the Darlington is the only unit it currently owns in Georgia. The rents at the Darlington range from $600 to $1,000 per month, according to the website.

Athena Parker, who said she has lived at the Darlington since moving to Atlanta eight years ago, said she believes the owners are forcing residents out because they want to make more money on a property in a prime location.

“I think they’re doing because they’re greedy,” she said.

She said she is afraid the only affordable options available to her may be in a dangerous area.

“This is my home. These people are my family,” Parker said. “I’m scared. Am I going to become homeless?”

The Darlington is located at 2025 Peachtree Road. (Evelyn Andrews)

Varden’s practice of buying up low-cost housing complexes and renovating them is “creating a crisis in the south,” said Tim Franzen, a housing activist who helped organize the rally with the Housing Justice League.

The organization, which was created about six years ago, is working with the city and helping bring together partners that could help Darlington residents find new housing, Franzen said.

“They help make Buckhead work,” he said. “Now they’re going to have to commute.”

Many of the people living in the Darlington work at places like grocery stores and the nearby Piedmont Hospital and Shepherd Center, said Romunda Bostic, who has lived at the complex for five years.

“They may not be doctors, but they are the people who push your relatives around the hospital or take them their food,” she said. “You still want those services in the city of Atlanta, so therefore you need to provide housing for these same people.”

Bostic said she wants the owner to provide a discount on their last month’s rent to go toward deposits and moving expenses.

“At least provide packing supplies,” she said.

Buckhead Christian Ministries, a homelessness prevention and services organization, will join several other nonprofits and agencies at a Sept. 19 event that will provide assistance to Darlington residents. Keeva Kase, the president and CEO of the organization, said the groups will provide funds to help residents pay deposits and bills. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in the Darlington’s lobby.

“This is a particularly challenging scenario because the timeline is short and we’re having to activate very quickly,” Kase said.

Renee Henson, a resident who uses a wheelchair, said it is difficult for most people to move in 60 days, but especially for the several disabled renters at the Darlington.

But she said she can’t live in the current conditions. Parker and other residents said the conditions have worsened since the were notified they had to vacate, including broken air conditioning, hot water and freight elevator.

The complex has had those problems previously, and other issues like bug infestations, but maintenance would fix it, she said.

“We used to have help with stuff like that,” she said.

Tennia Daniels, who has lived at the Darlington for 17 years, said the lack of freight elevators, which are the only ones big enough for most furniture, has forced some residents to leave large items behind. At least one of the recent small fires was caused by someone setting that furniture on fire, she said.

A poster taped to one of the apartment lobby windows encouraged residents to provide information on the fires, which are being treated as an arson case with a $10,000 reward.

Near the end of the rally, participants walked to the sidewalk at Peachtree Road and handed out a list of demands to pedestrians and cars stopped at the traffic signal. The demands included access to air conditioning and hot water and to delay renovation of the building until all residents are relocated.

“We will not stop until every resident has a place to go,” the demand list said.

Bostic said the rally was not only about improving conditions and finding new housing for Darlington residents, but also for preventing similar situations.

“You shouldn’t have to have a rallies so you can have air conditioning,” Bostic said.

She said she was displaced previously in Buckhead when her apartment building was renovated and sold as condos. It happening again is a sign of the Buckhead community continuing to change from one that once had more affordable housing.

“At one time, Buckhead was a community for everybody,” Bostic said. “People fail to realize the old Buckhead was not a place where you had Tom Ford and the Hermes shops up the street.”