Littleton

Littleton apartment fire: Seniors 'grieving the loss of a community'

Fire prevents residents from moving back to Southview Place Towers

By Kyle Harding and Chris Rotar
Posted 4/25/16

Jim and Carolyn Stubbert hadn’t spent the night in their apartment in nearly two weeks when they heard the news.

The couple would not be going home — other than to pack their possessions.

The situation reminded Jim Stubbert of the first …

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Littleton

Littleton apartment fire: Seniors 'grieving the loss of a community'

Fire prevents residents from moving back to Southview Place Towers

Posted

Jim and Carolyn Stubbert hadn’t spent the night in their apartment in nearly two weeks when they heard the news.

The couple would not be going home — other than to pack their possessions.

The situation reminded Jim Stubbert of the first night after the fire that forced them from their apartment. It felt, he said, like he and his wife were “homeless again.”

On April 6, as smoke filled hallways, residents were evacuated from Southview Place Towers, a senior-living community just east of downtown Littleton. More than a dozen seniors spent 10 nights in a Red Cross shelter, while others, like the Stubberts, found temporary homes with family or friends.

Then on April 19, the building’s 132 residents learned their leases had been terminated. Damage from the lunchtime fire was extensive enough to make the building uninhabitable for at least six months, a spokesman for Southview’s owners said.

The Stubberts have been staying with their daughter in south Jefferson County.

“We don’t know how much longer she is going to put up with us,” Jim Stubbert said.

By the end of last week, as volunteers put boxes in moving trucks, the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Leaving home again

For some of the seniors, the moving began less than 36 hours after they learned they would have to leave. Many of the residents, some of whom have lived at Southview for decades, didn’t know where they were headed — or if they would see their friends again.

“These folks have just experienced a traumatic loss,” said Kathryn Roy, executive director of Littleton nonprofit group Love INC, who was helping coordinate a volunteer effort to assist seniors with the move. “They’re grieving — they’re grieving the loss of a community.”

April 21 was the first of 10 days scheduled for the move-out, with each resident of the five-story building given a two-day window based on their floor of residence.

Volunteers from Love INC — a Christian organization that works to address unmet community needs — joined volunteers from the Boy Scouts of America, the Knights of Columbus and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and movers provided by the property owners in hauling furniture, clothing and other belongings to moving trucks, keeping items separated by apartment number.

The building at 5820 S. Windermere St. was safe to enter but not to live in, said Andy Boian, CEO of Dovetail Solutions, a public-relations and crisis-management firm based in Denver hired by Southview’s owners.

Boian said the owners are refunding residents their security deposits and a pro-rated amount of their April rent, and also giving the seniors $500 per unit to help with relocation expenses.

In addition to moving help, vouchers for clothing, grocery gift cards and transportation were donated to residents by various groups.

“This community has come together in every way possible to help the residents affected by this fire,” Littleton Mayor Bruce Beckman said in a news release. “I want to thank everyone involved in helping with this difficult situation.”

The building and the damage done

Southview Place Towers comprises two adjacent buildings that were built in the early 1970s, one on Windermere Street and one on Datura Street. The fire did not reach the Datura building.

In February, the buildings were purchased for $30.5 million by Tebo-Orvis LLC, according to Arapahoe County property records.

The fire, which started on the fourth floor, hit 24 apartments particularly hard. Those units are on the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building, which has 130 apartments.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but arson is not suspected, a city spokeswoman said.

A letter from the ownership to the tenants said the building’s heating and air, fire alarm and sprinkler systems had been damaged and will need to be upgraded to current safety codes.

The city issued building permits for renovation less than 48 hours after the fire, said Kelli Narde, Littleton’s director of communications.

“Our No. 1 priority is to ensure that life safety issues are addressed as the building is repaired,” fire marshal Tim Stover, of Littleton Fire Rescue, said in a news release. “Certain parts of the building will need to be upgraded to comply with the International Building and Fire Codes.”

Boian said the owners intend to make the needed repairs and keep it a senior-living residence. He said it is too early to know if the residents who are leaving will be given first shot at leasing refurbished units or if the rent will rise once the work is completed.

While a complete overview of rental rates at Southview Place Towers was not available, a listing on the website apartmentfinder.com advertised a two-bedroom, two-bath unit for $1,135 a month. That’s nearly $500 a month less than the median rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Littleton and nearby cities, according to apartmentlist.com, which surveys rents across the nation.

Unexpected news

Dozens of Southview residents gathered at Littleton United Methodist Church for what they only knew was an important informational meeting April 19. Several residents said they had expected to hear they could move back within a few weeks.

Some reacted with tears when they found out they could no longer live at Southview.

Rose Sullivan met the news with frustration.

“I’m 94 years old,” she said. “Where do I go?”

At least temporarily, Sullivan is living with her daughter. But she is accustomed to being independent.

“I’m so used to living by myself. I write my own checks. I pay my own rent.”

Building resident Ted Lemke summed up his reaction as “shell-shocked.”

Boian said the building’s ownership is working with the Red Cross and other groups to help find new homes for the seniors.

“None of these people will wind up homeless — I can ensure you that,” he said. “We have no intention of letting anyone suffer any more than they already have.”

But no one could say how soon the former Southview tenants, many of whom are on fixed incomes, would be able to find new homes. Or, in a climate of high rental prices and low vacancy rates, how many would be able to continue living in Littleton. The city is noted for its senior amenities — such as the Omnibus shuttle for medical and shopping trips. Southview is a particularly desirable site, close to the Woodlawn shopping plaza and the Buck Recreation Center, a benefit for the dozens of seniors who no longer drive.

Even as they were watching trucks being loaded with their belongings, many of the seniors couldn’t know if they were saying goodbye to more than just a building.

“Some of them,” said Roy, of Love INC, “don’t even know where their storage is going to be.”

How to help

A fund has been established through the Arapahoe County Foundation in an effort to assist the seniors who lost their homes after the fire.

To contribute to the Southview Apartment Fire Victims Account through the Arapahoe County Foundation, visit www.razoo.com/story/Southview-Towers-Apartment-Fire-Victims-Fund

Or mail a check payable to "Arapahoe County Foundation" to 5334 S. Prince St., Littleton, CO 80120. Include "Southview Apartment Fire Victims" on the memo line of your check.

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