By JOHN HOWELL The fire at Les Chateaux apartments brought tenants together in a way they never imagined, but now it appears what they gained they won't be able to keep. As Shirley Jeffreys, Angela Bailey, Al and Arline Caldarone and Mary DerManoueilian
The fire at Les Chateaux apartments brought tenants together in a way they never imagined, but now it appears what they gained they won’t be able to keep.
As Shirley Jeffreys, Angela Bailey, Al and Arline Caldarone and Mary DerManoueilian gathered in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel last Thursday morning, they didn’t know where they would land and when they could expect to return to their apartments. They looked forward to returning to Les Chateaux now more than ever because of the bond they formed with tenants. The early morning fire on Saturday, Feb. 13, had melded them into a caring community, and they looked forward to building upon those relationships once they were back in their units.
As the day progressed, that looked less and less possible, and by Friday, Ed Jouki, owner of the complex, was running out of options. In order to reopen, he would need to replace the electrical system. That is an expense that be believes insurance will cover. Then he expects in order to gain a certificate of occupancy, he will need to comply with changes in fire code regulations at an untold cost not covered by insurance. In addition, Jouki wants to update the units with new kitchens and bathrooms as well as replace carpeting with hardwood flooring.
All of this is going to take months, months where tenants will need to find alternative housing. And when it is completed, Jouki doubts he can keep rents at $1,050 for a single bedroom and $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment – utilizes included.
Meanwhile, the greater Warwick community has rallied. Some GoFundMe accounts have been started in the names of individual tenants – there are 46 units in the building with an estimated 66 tenants. Soon after the fire, Mayor Frank Picozzi posted on Facebook he would be placing a collection bucket in front of his house. The Red Cross paid for two nights at the Crowne and gave out 45 $500 gift cards. Then, this past Saturday, the newly formed After Fire Victims Outreach held its first boot drive across from Governor Francis Plaza on Warwick Avenue. Todd Brown of the Lincoln Fire Department, who heads the group, said the $2,800 donated went to the mayor for him to distribute to victims of the fire. While none of the more than 60 tenants of the Chateaux were injured and most of units sustained minor smoke damage, Brown said these people need housing and that’s what he believes the money will go toward.
On Sunday morning, more than 35 members of 401 Jeep Wave gathered with their Jeeps in the Ann & Hope parking lot for a drive-thru collection drive. Many tenants attended, joining Jeep owners as they stood outside their vehicles. Mayor Picozzi had the bucket from in front of his house. Donors, many of them city employees and friends and acquaintances of tenants, stopped to chat.
The news was good. Like the Caldarones, many had found housing at the Homewood Suites by Hilton extended stay in Warwick. Others had found places at the Sonata extended stay in Warwick. In many cases, insurance will cover the cost of the temporary housing. Some displaced tenants have moved in with relatives. On Sunday, Picozzi said the city was still looking to place one tenant who didn’t have insurance to cover temporary housing or a place to go.
The mayor said the money collected from the various drives, totaling more than $17,000, would be split among the units in the building. He said 10 tenants who had insurance voluntarily offered to forego their share to help those without insurance. In addition, he said Dave’s Fresh Marketplace has made $100 gift cards available for the 35 without insurance.
Jouki said housing was his concern, too. He offered to return half of what they have paid in February rent, their deposit, plus $1,000, which he calculated is more than $2,000 and sufficient for an apartment elsewhere. He could not promise tenants could return to their units after the remodeling is completed and the building is approved for occupancy. He doesn’t know when that might be, or for that matter what rents would be.
“What do you want me to do?” he asks of people that suggest he do more.
Faced with uncertainty over where they will end up and how they will make it work financially, tenants were remarkably thankful last Thursday morning.
“I can’t say enough about the Red Cross,” Bailey said to the nods of the group. They went on to extol the efforts of Warwick firefighters who helped guide them out of the building, the mayor’s help in retrieving items from their units and assisting at the Pilgrim Senior Center where they were taken, and of assistance of Meg Underwood, director of senior services. There were so many more that pitched in, including Ronzio Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts and Westbay Community Action.
“You don’t realize how many good people are out there,” said Bailey.
Shirley Jeffreys said she started choking in the heavy smoke. She credited her life to two firefighters who carried her from the building.
“That alarm system was a lifesaver,” Bailey said. The noise was described as loud enough the wake the dead.
Bailey said she could move in temporarily with her son. By Sunday, she had made arrangements to stay at the Homewood, as had the Caldarones. Jeffreys was hopeful of finding a place in a senior housing complex, although waiting lists are long and there is nothing immediately available.
On Sunday, building manager Cynthia Springer, who is also a tenant, said arrangements are being made to clean out the building as soon as possible and commence improvements needed and repairs needed to reopen. She said storage pods would be available for furniture and other belongings to tenants.