Five weeks after a deadly fire displaced nearly 100 in Redwood City, former residents of the Hallmark House Apartments expressed a load of frustration last night for not being able to find housing nor recover their belongings from the six-alarm blaze.
Redwood City officials along with other service providers from the county and local nonprofits hosted a town hall meeting last night at the Fair Oaks Community Center to give former residents, about half still homeless, an update on how to retrieve their belongings and find permanent housing.
Much of the night, however, was spent answering lots of questions from the former residents as to why they still have not been able to recover their clothes, keepsakes and valuables after the July 7 fire caused the Woodside Road 72-unit apartment complex to be uninhabitable.
Many of the fire victims will interview today for housing at the Woodland Apartments in East Palo Alto, which currently has 21 studios and two one-bedroom apartments to rent, according to representatives with InnVision Shelter Network.
About 70 attended the town hall meeting and about half of them still do not have permanent housing.
About half of the former residents, however, have found permanent housing.
Many who have not yet found housing are living in area motels until the end of the month.
Many complained that the private contractor hired to care for and decontaminate the units and the belongings inside have been unresponsive.
Landlord KDF Hallmark refunded residents’ July rent and returned deposits and has also provided letters of recommendations for the former tenants to help them find new housing, said Teri Chin, Human Services manager for Redwood City.
Shari Dewart and Ray Lavin have been living at a Days Inn while they search for housing.
They contend their unit only suffered water damage and that they need everyday items still in their unit such as Lavin’s dentures to survive.
Ramona Boyd said her unit also only suffered water damage and wants her clothes back.
But the presence of asbestos has made the complex toxic, Chin said.
Residents were only given 15 minutes two days after the fire broke out to go inside their units to take back any of their belongings.
At least 13 former residents have filed a lawsuit against KDF Hallmark, saying the landlord was negligent for not installing fire sprinklers.
A fire incident report has still not been completed, however, Chin told the crowd.
Fire investigators have stated the fire was likely an accident that started in a third-floor unit where the deceased, 48-year-old Darin Michael Demello-Pine, was cooking at about 1:45 a.m.
The victims, many who receive housing assistance, have learned firsthand since the fire that there is a lack of affordable housing in the area.
The city is responding to the fire victims’ needs at a time when funds for affordable housing have dried up.
“Redwood City continues to advance affordable housing despite the challenge of $10 million in city funds earmarked for below market housing being appropriated by the state when RDAs (Redevelopment Agencies) were dissolved. Redwood City proactively procures and disburses grants — expressly used for the purpose of supporting affordable housing — from the Community Development Block Grant program and the federal government’s HOME grant program. Redwood City will continue to support and seek to create housing opportunities for our residents of all income levels,” city spokeswoman Sheri Costa-Batis wrote the Daily Journal in an email last night.
Some of the victims remain in good spirits and are hopeful they will finding housing soon.
Victim Angela Parks plans to visit the Woodland Apartments in East Palo Alto today to see if she can find a new place to live.
Others, however, did not like the idea of having to move to East Palo Alto because of the city’s high crime rate.
Redwood City plans another open house Aug. 20 for the victims.
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