Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.) claimed without evidence on Tuesday that his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, is trying to "exploit" the disadvantaged residents who face eviction from the low-income apartment building owned by his church.
Warnock told reporters there have been no evictions from the building, a claim undermined by publicly available court records. It is the Democratic senator's latest attempt at obfuscation in the wake of several Washington Free Beacon reports on the eviction lawsuits filed against residents of Columbia Tower at MLK Village, of which Ebenezer Baptist Church is a 99 percent owner. Warnock, who serves as senior pastor at Ebenezer, receives a $7,417 monthly housing allowance from the church.
Warnock accused Walker of sullying the name of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. for "short-term political gain."
"This is an example of a candidate who has so little to offer to the people of Georgia that he has resorted to trying to sully the name of Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and John Lewis’s church," Warnock said of Walker. "And what is also shameful is that the work that’s being done there is for people who struggle with mental illness, disabilities. Folks who are coming out of homelessness. And he is exploiting these people as he is good at for short-term political gain."
Residents told the Free Beacon in October they had no idea that Ebenezer Baptist Church owned their home.
Warnock also misrepresented the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s reports on his church’s building, saying the outlet reported "there have been no evictions" from Columbia Tower.
In fact, the paper confirmed that the building’s one-percent owner, Columbia Residential, had filed dispossessory notices against the building’s residents during the coronavirus pandemic, one for just $28.55 in past-due rent. The paper also reported that Columbia Residential said it had not evicted tenants for not paying rent since June 2020, implying that evictions took place during the early months of the pandemic.
Publicly available court documents show that Fulton County marshals have carried out at least two court-ordered writs of possession against residents of Columbia Tower since the start of the pandemic. One was carried out on Aug. 17, 2020, and the other on Feb. 1, 2022.
"You are hereby commanded to remove said Defendant together with his/her property hereon from said house and premises and to deliver full and quiet possession of the same to the Plaintiff herein," the writs say.
Another Columbia Tower resident said in a September court filing that the building managers "drills locks in door with no probal [sic] cause didn’t give notice to vacate," and that he was "evicted for 1 night by lock change, incurred hotel fee."
Residents of the building told the Free Beacon that Columbia Residential has become more aggressive in its rent collection policies, and sent out a notice in September saying it would initiate removal proceedings after five days of non-payment.
"If you don’t pay your rent by the fifth, a dispossessory notice comes out that week," one resident said. "They won’t accept the payment after the fifth."
Columbia Tower resident Phillip White, an African-American Vietnam War veteran, told the Free Beacon he was served an eviction notice in September 2021 for $179 in unpaid rent. He resolved the matter, but only after paying $325 in fees. White received a second eviction notice in September 2022 for $192 in past-due rent, which he said he plans to fight in court.
"They treat me like a piece of shit. They're not compassionate at all," White said.
Columbia Tower filed removal proceedings against three additional tenants on Oct. 12, one day after the Free Beacon broke the news that the church-owned building had filed a dozen eviction lawsuits against residents of the building since the start of the pandemic. Two new eviction lawsuits seek $115 in past-due rent, plus $325 in fees.
Warnock told reporters on Tuesday his church has no involvement in the day-to-day management of the apartment building. But Warnock is the principal officer of Ebenezer Building Foundation, the 501(c)3 charity controlled by Warnock’s church that owns 99 percent of the apartment building through a network of shell organizations. Ebenezer contracted with Columbia Residential to manage the property "on their behalf," the residential management company told the Free Beacon.