Few corporate landlords sought to evict more residents in 2021 than the company Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D., Ga.) church partnered with to manage its low-income apartment building.
Columbia Residential manages 49 apartments in the Atlanta area, including Columbia Tower at MLK Village, a low-income apartment building owned by Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock serves as senior pastor. Out of 1,587 corporate landlords across the country, only 30 filed more eviction lawsuits in 2021 than Columbia Residential, records show. The property management company filed 605 eviction actions against its residents in 2021, according to a dataset cited by House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis chairman Rep. James Clyburn (D., Ga.).
As Warnock’s opponent in the upcoming Senate race, Herschel Walker, has seized on the storyline, highlighting the evictions and squalid conditions at the building, Warnock has sought to distance himself from Columbia’s aggressive eviction practices. He told reporters on Tuesday he has no involvement in day-to-day matters and said—despite evidence to the contrary—that no evictions have been carried out at the apartment building. In fact, 15 eviction lawsuits have been filed against residents of the building since the start of the pandemic, one for just $28.55 in past-due rent. Fulton County marshals have carried out two court-ordered writs of possession at the property since 2020, and one resident accused the building in September of changing his locks and temporarily evicting him without notice.
Some dispossessory notices filed against residents of the building during the pandemic were ultimately dropped, but only after residents paid penalties far greater than their monthly rent. Columbia Tower resident Phillip White, for example, told the Free Beacon he had to pay $325 in fees before Columbia Residential dropped its attempt to evict him in September 2021 for $179 in past-due rent.
Columbia Residential has accelerated its rate of filing dispossessory notices in 2022. The company has filed 613 eviction actions in court against residents in 39 of its Atlanta-based properties so far this year, 318 of which remain open as of Sunday. Ebenezer tapped Columbia Residential to manage Columbia Tower "on its behalf," the property management company told the Washington Free Beacon.
Ebenezer Baptist Church pays Warnock a salary and a $7,417 per-month, tax-free housing allowance. Columbia Residential founder and CEO Noel Khalil, who led the company until his death in October 2021, donated $14,000 to Warnock’s 2020 Senate campaign and runoff, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Warnock’s church owns 99 percent of Columbia Tower through a network of shell companies linked to a charity it controls, which identifies Warnock as its principal officer. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities and Charities Division launched an investigation into Ebenezer’s charity on Oct. 12, seeking to discover why it has been operating in the state without registering with state authorities, the Free Beacon reported.
Warnock has rejected Walker's offer to pay the back rents of residents facing eviction from his church’s apartment building.
"Raphael Warnock continues to dodge important questions Georgia voters need answers to," said Walker campaign spokesman Will Kiley. "We have copies of the eviction notices. Raphael Warnock claims to be a pastor for the people, the disadvantaged, and the poor. But the actions he and his church have taken say otherwise."
Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Columbia Residential did not return requests for comment.