Residents Still Displaced As Brattleboro Fire Cleanup Continues

Nov 9, 2015

Work continues in Brattleboro to find housing for about half of the residents displaced by a weekend four-alarm fire at an affordable housing apartment building.

Monday, officials held a meeting at the Brattleboro Fire Station to discuss the situation. 

Aimee Harrison attended the meeting, and the news wasn't good.

"We kind of expected this was what was going to happen. It's a long process,” said Harrison. “I'm just making assumptions, but what I've seen, and what I read about, there wasn't going to be anything more than yesterday, but we still wanted to be here just in case."

A fire early Saturday severely damaged two apartments in the 12-unit building owned by Windham and Windsor Housing Trust.

Three other apartments will need extensive work and officials say it might be months before the residents will be able to return.

Police and fire officials were hoping that about half of the residents would have been able to move back in Monday but more work is needed on the telephone, heating and sprinkler systems.

And so for at least one more night, Harrison and the other 40 or so residents will have to find alternative housing.

Sarah Colbert, left, and Aimee Harrison are now homeless after a four-alarm fire in their apartment building early Saturday.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Housing trust asset manager Deb Zak says it was going to be a long recovery for the five families who were most affected by the blaze.

"All five families lost possessions in that fire,” Zak said. "A lot of those possessions are gone, you know, kids' beds. It's really sad the amount of loss the tenants have had."

There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the fire, including the cause, which remains under investigation.

"You can tell by the number of kids in the building - 25 kids - that this is family housing, and it's important family housing. So we want to get this back online." - Connie Snow, executive director of Windham and Windsor Housing Trust

Zak says it is going to be a month or so before the housing trust knows how much work is going to be needed to rehabilitate the building.

"The saddest thing is that six households can't go back to that neighborhood immediately. There's been an impact on [the] community that's been built,” said Zak. “That's very hard to rebuild and replace."

The large, former row house is one of the few multi-family units Windham and Windsor Housing Trust owns, and more than half of the people who are displaced are children.

Windham and Windsor Housing Trust Executive Director Connie Snow says it has been a challenge to find temporary housing for the families, and it will be even harder to come up with a long-term solution while the units are being renovated.

"[The building is] such a critical resource of affordable housing. Twelve, three-bedroom apartments,” said Snow. “You can tell by the number of kids in the building - 25 kids - that this is family housing, and it's important family housing. So we want to get this back online."

Officials say they hoped people could move back in over the next few days, but they could not provide an exact timeframe.