A Littleton apartment building has been condemned because of asbestos contamination during a fire last month, leaving 163 seniors without a permanent place to stay in a metro region experiencing a housing crisis.
Residents let out soft groans after they learned the news Monday in a meeting in a church decorated for Christmas. About 100 people — residents as well as relatives and friends who had come to support them — were gathered across the street from the Windermere senior apartments, where a fire early on Nov.17 killed one resident.
Thirteen other people were injured in the fire, which was deemed accidental and has caused extensive smoke damage as well as the asbestos spill. The five-story, 134-unit building has been closed since the fire and residents have moved to hotels or in with friends or family.
“The building has been deemed uninhabitable,” said Andy Boian, a spokesman for the building’s owner. “That was the decision made by the city. That is something we have no control over.”
The building management team moved among the pews distributing copies of a letter notifying tenants that their leases had been terminated and that they would be reimbursed security deposits and half November’s rent. Boian said the building owners also would pay each tenant $500.
Hands and at least one cane were raised as people clamored to ask questions for an anxious, sometimes angry hour or so. Cell phones were raised by tenants who used them to record the exchanges.
Tenants wanted to know when they would be able to retrieve their belongings, including a green card and passport one woman said she needed in order to work. Hearing the promised reimbursements and payments would come only after they had moved out, they asked where they would get money they would need to secure new housing. They wanted to know where to turn for help.
Such a situation would be hard for anyone, but in particular older people on fixed incomes, said Ann Ross. Ross came to the meeting to take notes for a friend, Carolyn Vierling, who has been hospitalized with smoke injuries since the fire. Ross has set up a GoFundMe campaign for her friend, who she said was using federal housing vouchers referred to as Section 8 and intended to help low-income people.
“There’s nowhere to go because there’s no Section 8 housing available,” Ross said.
Residents learned at Monday’s meeting that Arapahoe County officials were working to organize loans they could use for deposits on new housing. There was talk of a fundraiser and calls on landlords with free units to step forward.
A coalition of churches pledged support, including transportation to future meetings about the fire’s aftermath. Boian said all those meetings were likely to be one-on-one at a resource center being established at a church facility next door that would be staffed by insurance experts, Arapahoe County Housing staff and other counselors. A telephone line tenants could call to get recorded updates also was being set up, Boian said.
He said schedules for moving out would be finalized once it was determined how tenants, insurance adjustors and movers could safely enter the building. It was already clear no one would be able to use the main entrance or central stairs, leaving only fire stairs and exits available for moving. Nine apartments had been found too damaged ever to be reentered.
Boian said it could take at least a year to renovate the building. Those displaced would have “first right of refusal” when units were again ready to rent, he said.
A fire two years ago in the complex’s other building had caused a similar displacement.
“I am so sorry that we are having to go through this again,” Boian said Monday. “We will do everything we can to help folks get their lives back and stable.”