By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
DeKalb County, Georgia is the site of what’s been dubbed the worst neighborhood in America. The 369-unit condominium association was once an affordable but livable option for Somalian refugees in the 1980s. The condos were so inexpensive that buyers were able to pay cash and avoid having to obtain mortgages. These modest dwellings were their piece of the American Dream.
But over the years, owners say that Brannon Hill has been led by a corrupt board. For years they collected assessments but never seemed to do any maintenance or repairs. Perhaps it was easy to take advantage of uneducated immigrants, unfamiliar with American laws, unaware of their rights.
A new generation of hundreds of immigrants – mostly tenants – now inhabit many of the units, including condos in burned out buildings with unsafe wiring and leaky plumbing. Since the early 2000s, when the first of several fires occurred at Brannon Hill, the condo owners have faced one crisis after another. Many original condo owners have abandoned the property. Others have become slumlords, renting unsafe units for as little as $300 per month.
Residents have come to the U.S. from war-torn African nations, hoping to escape corruption and chaos, only to find similar – if not worse – living conditions at Brannon Hill.
For nearly a year, DeKalb County officials have been at odds over what to do about Brannon Hill owners and residents. Several local nonprofit groups have also offered assistance. But conditions are only marginally better. Some trash and debris have been removed, but, as you can see from the recent video linked below, those efforts have barely reduced the level of blight and have done little to improve living conditions.
For more than a decade, local government has remained on the sidelines, offering little public support to the condo association. Instead, the DeKalb County and the city of Clarkson have literally been putting out fires as they erupt, and occasionally dispatching the police to arrest violent offenders. Government’s response has been reactive rather than proactive.
The truth is, the few owners that remain at Brannon Hill have very little money to save what’s left of their homes. Owners and tenants alike lack basic skills to manage a condominium association. Quite frankly, these are people just trying to survive with very few opportunities and resources within their grasp.
According to the latest report, DeKalb county is seeking to demolish dangerous buildings and relocate tenants to safer housing.
The most stunning part of the report is Commissioner Nancy Jester’s admission that Brannon Hill represents “a failure of government on so many levels.”
DeKalb Co. sues condo complex for permission to demolish burned buildings
AJC, Nov. 21, 2016