As recently as one week ago, Bill Hoover thought he was going to have mere months to find a new place to live.
Hoover and the residents of Orchard Apartments, a pair of small complexes near downtown Cumming for low-income senior citizens, had received a letter from management warning that the property might be sold to make way for a large mixed-use development. Knowing the steep cost of other housing options around Forsyth County, residents felt resigned to either paying double for rent or moving to another county.
Those fears are largely gone now, Hoover said, as Orchard residents were notified by management that the Mashburn Family Trust, which owns the apartments and property, has decided not to sell the complexes.
“Everybody is happy,” Hoover said. “Right now, they took a big burden off of us.”
In a statement to the Forsyth County News on behalf of the Mashburn Family Trust, Martha Lappé said that the Orchard Apartments “are not going to be sold and will not be part of the planned development on the family’s home place.”
Lappé added: “My five brothers and sisters and I – all senior citizens – hope to be able to continue to provide comfortable, safe and affordable homes to other senior citizens for as long as we can.”
The apartments have been one of the only reliable sources of affordable housing for low-income seniors in the city since their construction in 1981 and 1985 by Dr. Marcus Mashburn Jr., a one-time prominent physician and civic leader.
Mashburn Jr. developed an interest in providing housing to low-income residents from his years making house calls to local families, Lappé said. He was a founding member of the Cumming Housing Authority, Lappé said, and used a loan from a rural housing program offered by the United States Department of Agriculture to build the Orchard Apartments on land that the Mashburn family has owned since the 1920s.
Mashburn Jr. died in 1998, and when the loan was paid off years later, the Mashburn family “chose to continue to rent to low-income seniors” rather than “raising rents to market rates,” Lappé said. Today, the one- and two-bedroom single-story apartments cost between just below $300 and $600 a month.
Rumors about the property’s future circulated earlier this year, but residents heard nothing until they received a letter in early March from Orchard Apartments management stating there was a “good possibility” the land the apartments sit on off Meadow Drive and Orchard Circle would be sold in early fall.
Residents were “strongly advised” to find a new place to live, management said. The letter provided three options for local apartments and the contact information for housing authorities in the cities of Hartwell, LaFayette, Ellijay and Gainesville. Management even suggesting that residents could split a two-bedroom apartment to save on rent.
The Forsyth County News discovered that the Orchard Apartments sit on land that, if approved by the Cumming City Council, would be a part of Mashburn Village, a 63-acre proposed development between Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Atlanta Highway designed by the Alpharetta-based firm Wakefield Beasley & Associates. The company has worked on such high-profile projects as Avalon, Halcyon Forsyth and the Forsyth County Courthouse and Jail, according to its website.
According to development plans provided by the city of Cumming, the project would include a public/private parking deck, multi-story self-storage facility, a pedestrian connection to nearby Movies 400, green space, trails, 75,000 square feet of retail/flex space, a restaurant, civic space, a grocery store and other amenities.
For housing, plans show there will be 320 leasable flat units, 85 lots for single-family homes and 31 lots for townhomes.
The plan will not move forward with the city until a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process is done by state and regional organizations, according to Scott Morgan, director of planning and zoning for the city.
The potential sale of the apartments and land seemed to force Orchard residents into making a hard choice while exposing Forsyth County’s lack of affordable housing options for those without the financial resources or physical ability.
If the Orchard’s property sold, Hoover and other residents would have received only 60 days’ notice under Georgia law, and their prospects of finding something affordable in a timely manner weren’t good, Hoover said.
“It takes three years for me to find another place,” Hoover said, later adding: “It’s over $1,000 [a month] all the way to Canton.”
Hoover waited 10 years to get a unit at Orchard, he said, and he was grateful when he did four years ago. Hoover lives in a handicap unit with his wife and son, who has Asperger’s and schizophrenia, he said, while his mother-in-law lives in another unit nearby.
Hoover started to consider other creative housing options, like purchasing a motorhome, but his wife insisted that that wouldn’t be necessary, he said. She had had a “God moment.”
“She heard God say, ‘You’re not moving,’” Hoover said. “And here it is. God might be on our side on this one.”
Previous reporting by Kelly Whitmire and Alexander Popp contributed to this report.