'Highly Hazardous': Warnock's Apartments Hit With Housing Code Violations Over Rats, Mold, Electrical Fires

The trash room at Columbia Tower and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.)
November 4, 2022

Sen. Raphael Warnock's (D., Ga.) church-owned low-income apartment complex has been slapped with multiple Atlanta city housing code violations over rodent and bug infestations, hazardous mold, and overflowing trash rooms, according to city records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Records from the Atlanta Police Department's Code Enforcement Section paint a troubling picture of the living conditions at the housing complex—revealing that the problems date back to at least 2016 and were considered serious enough for the city to intervene on multiple occasions.

The records raise new questions for Warnock, who serves as CEO and senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, which owns 99 percent of the Columbia Tower buildings through a shell company. Since taking office in 2021, the senator has positioned himself as a champion for fair and safe housing and said earlier this year that "housing is dignity."

Warnock has defended the church's ownership of Columbia Tower and Columbia Senior Residences at MLK Village apartments after the Free Beacon first reported in October on the building's eviction proceedings against tenants. In a recent debate, Warnock said the report on the evictions was an attempt to "sully the name of Martin Luther King Jr.'s church," which spends "every day every week feeding the hungry and the homeless."

Warnock in January sent a letter to the Department of Defense in response to reports about "repair delays, toxic mold, pests," and other housing problems on U.S. military bases.

Warnock said it was "shameful" that service members "had to deal with these poor living conditions in the first place."

"Housing is dignity," he wrote. "I will continue pushing the federal government to make sure we're doing everything we can to provide our courageous men and women in uniform, and their families, with the resources and support they need not just to live, but thrive."

Yet Warnock hasn't publicly raised concerns about similar complaints from residents at the housing complex owned by his church.

The Free Beacon received over 70 pages of inspection records, tenant complaints, photographs, and correspondence from the Atlanta Police Department's Code Enforcement Section, which led to at least four housing code violations against Columbia between 2016 and 2019.

In August 2016, the city of Atlanta received tenant complaints about "mice, roaches, and bugs infestation" at Columbia Tower. Inspectors found that the "dwelling unit is infested by insects" and cited Columbia for a housing maintenance violation.

Two years later, the city filed another code violation notice against Columbia, after multiple complaints about water leakage, flooding, and overflowing trash around the building that was attracting "rodents such as rats and possums." Inspectors cited "junk, trash, & debris on premises" and "ceiling surfaces [that] are soiled and unsanitary" in the violation notice, which included photos of water damage and piles of garbage.

In October 2019, a tenant told the city that he had been dealing with a bug infestation for eight months and said he had health problems due to overflowing trash outside his apartment. "Dumpster fumes are affecting his health," said the complaint, a situation that the city flagged as "highly hazardous." Another tenant reported in 2020 that his "baseboard [was] missing, causing spiders to come inside the apartments," which had been "going on since October."

Water damage and flooding were also a problem, according to records. Columbia received another violation notice in June 2018 after a tenant complained that water leaking inside her walls was "causing electrical problems such as blue flames when she turn[s] on the lights," according to a record. A photograph appeared to show fire damage on the electrical outlet. The city flagged the violation as "highly hazardous."

The city in September 2019 filed another housing violation citation against Columbia, which included photos of black mold growing in a closet, water damage, and dead bugs. Inspectors cited an "infestation of roaches," "soiled cabinets/mold," an "unsanitary trash room," and an "unsanitary stairway" in the building.

The records echo firsthand accounts from Columbia residents, who talked to the Free Beacon in October and said there are still extensive sanitation and maintenance problems at the housing complex.

"We have a smell here," one resident told the Free Beacon. "The trash room has this overwhelming trash smell. As soon as you come in the building, it inundates you. It's just in your face. And it's embarrassing."

Residents said the building management lets garbage pile up in the trash rooms and the building's chute for days, leading to an overflow of waste.

"The aroma of the trash was so horrific and ridiculous," said another resident, who lives on the first floor of the building near the waste room.

Another tenant told the Free Beacon about filth in the building's ventilation system, saying, "The vents haven't been blown out for years. The dust, it's sickening, actually."