ROMNEY — It has been three months since the Romney Unity apartment complex caught fire and displaced around 30 residents.
The residents may be able to come back in May, but only if everything goes according to plan.
Romney Unity Apartment offers housing to low-income elderly and disabled individuals. It is one of many apartment complexes in the state operating through Human Resources and Development and Employment (HRDE) Inc., a nonprofit that “aspires to provide safe, decent and affordable housing for economically disadvantaged persons with disabilities, the elderly and families through West Virginia.”
“It’s really up to the insurance company at this point,” said Jessica Thompson, HRDE’s administrative manager.
Thompson explained that the staff at HRDE has been “pulling (their) hair out” of the stagnant situation. The complexes are funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This means tenants don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for their apartments. For the rest, the HRDE receives a monthly stipend – in normal circumstances.
Thompson detailed that because the facility is still “uninhabitable,” they are no longer receiving that stipend. On top of that, they are still paying out hotel costs for the five tenants still residing at Romney’s South Branch Inn, a cost they would not usually have.
“There has been a lot of expense with it, and it’s such a slow process,” she said, explaining the staff’s frustrations.
Thompson reported last week they still await the insurance’s approval of the union-owned contractor they chose to go with for the repairs of Romney Unity.
“We’ve had great success with them, and they’ll do a good job,” Thompson said of the contractor.
The Dec. 13 fire that displaced the residents was accidental “due to the improper handling of smoking material,” according to the State Fire Marshal Chief Investigator Jason Baltic back in December.
Effective as of Feb. 20, the HRDE implemented a no-smoke policy in all of their housing facilities. The Romney fire wasn’t the only incident that the organization has dealt with, but it is undoubtedly the one that caused the “greatest damage,” Thompson said.
Fortunately, the residents who are not at South Branch Inn are either with friends or family, but several have lost important personal items during the fire.
The idea of a spaghetti dinner fundraiser has been discussed, but has yet to be confirmed.
Thompson said she had to return a check donation and that the entity is limited in the kind of help they can receive.
“Our bank, because it’s a business account, will not cash checks; we have to deposit, (but) we can’t deposit donation money into our operating account because that mixes the money,” she said.
Everything would have to be handled with cash until they found a way around those limitations.
She hopes that with the help of donations and possibly a fundraiser – which would give all proceeds to the tenants – the lost items and furniture can be replaced, including a lift chair that a woman had recently purchased before losing the fire.
“It’s up to the insurance company to say, ‘yes, we accept this bid, and you can proceed,’ so it’s hard to state a date as to when they’ll be back in, but it would be great if they would be back in by May,” Thompson said.
She said that HRDE hopes to talk the insurance company into giving them reimbursement for their expenses so far. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait until the end of the work period before they release the claim.
“We’re a business. That’s very, very hard,” Thompson said.
The initial goal in December was to raise $10,000, but with the limitations, they’ve only been able to raise $250.
For those interested in helping, Thompson specified she is taking cash donations in her main office in Morgantown. Lisa Schenck, the manager at Romney Unity Apartments, will also accept cash donations. Envelopes that read Dr. Jessica Thompson’s information labeled “tenant fire at Romney” will be accepted.
“We’re in a stalemate right now, hopefully, it wont be too long before we get something started in the rebuild,” she said.
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