Fire wrecks home, lives

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The charred remains of Gwendolyn Bond’s apartment tell the story of a cooking mishap that will have lingering implications for her family of five.

Bond not only faces the assumption of damage costs to the public housing unit, which caught on fire Tuesday, but also uncertainty as to where her four children will call home in the near future. Bond’s troubled outlook, in part, she says, stems from a conversation with Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo.

According to Bond, McAdoo informed her after the fire that because negligence contributed to the blaze, she must be evicted within 30 days in keeping with provisions of the lease. Bond, who has only lived in Hoffler Apartments for five months, said she was caught off guard, to say the least.

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&uot;I basically didn’t have a reaction because I thought I would be housed again,&uot; said a shaken Bond. &uot;She (McAdoo) told me that according to the contract, housing would not be provided for me.&uot;

When McAdoo was approached for an interview Tuesday evening at the SRHA main office, she declined stating that she had &uot;some issues&uot; to deal with at the time. McAdoo also refused the News-Herald’s request for copies of the Agency’s lease and/or policy regarding grounds for eviction, citing the same reason.

Earlier, Hoffler apartment manager Kesha Reid said she did not have time to pull a lease from the computer. A review of one resident’s lease could not find distinct language referencing fires, for example, as grounds for eviction. Good cause, however, is noted. Residents complained in unison that the language in the lease is too vague, and almost requires an attorney to decipher.

Susie Golden, Bond’s mother, is very concerned about her daughter’s future, and the long-term implications of the fire.

&uot;She’s being evicted because of negligence. Accidents happen,&uot; said Golden. She added that she’s learned that the SRHA will be providing housing for the two neighboring families that suffered smoke damage from the blaze.

&uot;It was an accident,&uot; she added. &uot;I could see them putting her in another apartment and making her pay for the damages – but not this. She was working and the children were there trying to cook.&uot;

Family members and neighbors provided this account of the events surrounding the fire:

Just after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Bond’s 15-year-old daughter Johnel was heating cooking oil when she took a phone call upstairs, only to return downstairs to an apartment filled with smoke and flames.

Johnel and two other siblings were home, Whitney, 13, and John, 12, along with three neighborhood children. The children raced back and forth to rescue the children, and called 911. Bond was at work when the fire occurred.

All occupants of the apartment were evacuated safely, as Suffolk firefighters arrived on scene and doused the blaze. Both children Johnel and John were treated at the scene for accelerated blood pressure due to the scare.

&uot;We lost everything,&uot; said Johnel. The family had no renters insurance.

She insists that if the smoke alarms had been operational the fire could have been avoided. She noted that the downstairs detector did not sound until the apartment was almost totally consumed. Johnel added that she never heard the upstairs smoke alarm. The sisters also tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire with a store-bought device, to no avail.

Nearly all the contents of the apartment were ruined, and smut covered the once eggshell walls throughout the unit. The kitchen was totally destroyed, and only a hole burned into the wall was a reminder of the stove’s remains that were removed after the fire.

An estimate of damages was not available as of Tuesday evening.

The Red Cross helped the family obtain emergency housing for Tuesday night, and Bond must apply today for extended housing until future arrangements become clear.

Resident SRHA Commissioner Thelma Hinton, who resides at Hoffler, and Commissioner Linda Brown were on site in response to the angered community. Both Hinton and Brown were hopeful that the housing authority board could change the course of action; however, Brown later acknowledged that the lease is a matter of policy that could not be reversed.

Hinton said the board should make a clear distinction between what’s considered negligence as opposed to an accident.

&uot;I am very disturbed about this,&uot; Hinton added. &uot;It’s a very thin line. We need to look at this from a human point of view. She also stated there would be discussion at the next board meeting.

Brown agreed and stated that she hopes Bond will be provided another housing unit. &uot;It should be something we could do,&uot; she said. Brown had originally planned a called-meeting for today prior to learning that the issue is out of the commissioners’ hands.

Residents were very outspoken that the action was not fair.

Family member and former Hoffler resident Dorothy Armstrong, who now resides in Lake Kennedy, said it is unbelievable that Bond faces such adversity after suffering this lost. &uot;It’s just not right,&uot; Armstrong said.

&uot;After tonight, where does she go from here,&uot; Bond’s mother asked.