Evacuees moving out of Windermere apartments in Littleton

Residents given two days to empty apartments

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The 163 seniors evicted from the Windermere apartments after a devastating November fire spent the week before Christmas hauling their belongings out of the building, but many were concerned about being given just two days to move out —  especially because many did not yet have new homes lined up.

A schedule provided to residents, obtained by the Independent, mandates a series of two-day periods for residents of each floor to move out — specified as one day to pack and one day to move out of the building in Littleton.

“It's just not enough time for anybody,” Karlene Austgen, 68, said during a meeting for residents at the Littleton United Methodist Church, across the street from the Windermere on South Datura Street on Dec. 11.

Residents would be given more time if they request it, said Andy Boian, a spokesman for Tebo-Orvis LLC, the company that owns the building.

“There's no chance that we'd tell someone they can't have more time if two days isn't enough,” Boian said. “The property management does not lack sympathy.”

An emergency relocation plan, prepared by Michael Haselhoff of Interstate Restoration and submitted to the city's building department and fire marshal, says residents would be given “two-four days to pack and move their belongings.”

Even proposed extensions seemed too short, said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman.

“I don't understand what the rush is,” Brinkman said after spending the afternoon meeting residents at the church. “It's impractical. You can't pack an apartment in that amount of time.”

Because the complex's elevators are disabled and the lobby is too contaminated to enter, residents and movers will only be able to access the building through exterior fire escape stairs, according to the relocation plan.

Vetted volunteers from Love Inc., a Christian charity, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints assisted residents with moving, said Linda Haley, manager of Arapahoe County's Senior Resources division.

Apartments in different parts of the building have different levels of damage, Haley said. Insurance adjusters combed the building doing assessments on property, Haley said.

Some residents' belongings needed professional cleaning, Boian said. Nine units were considered a total loss.

Tebo-Orvis will give residents $500, in addition to returning their security deposits and the second half of November rent, Boian said, but they won't get their checks until they turn in their keys once they're fully moved out. Residents won't suffer any penalty if they choose to abandon furniture or other belongings, Boian said.

Meanwhile, many residents are still struggling to find new homes.

“The county's still working on finding me a place to live,” said Shirley Whittlesey, 75, who spent weeks since the fire at the Essex House Motel in Littleton, living off food banks. “I'd like to find a place soon. I want out of the motel. I don't feel safe there.”

Whittlesey, whose first-floor apartment was off-limits since the Nov. 17 fire, has been without a phone, and only has one change of clothes. She's one of a handful of residents who had no renter's insurance — she said she was in the process of shopping for a policy when the fire hit.

“I'm not used to needing so much help,” Whittlesey said. “I've been independent since I was a little girl.”

Finding housing for everyone is a slow, tricky process, Haley said.

“We got a lot of response to our call for affordable apartments, but they're spread out from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs,” Haley said. “These people are grounded and connected to this area. They're not looking to uproot. This isn't the age where they want to undertake an adventure.”

At least 30 residents were still in hotels on Dec. 11, Haley said. She wasn't sure how many have found housing, though her office is working with at least 80 residents, and has placed 17 in new apartments so far, she said.

Karlene Austgen said she'll be staying with her sister for the near future.

“They put me at the top of the waiting list for a complex in Englewood, but I have to wait until a unit comes open,” Austgen said. “Not a lot of complexes meet my needs — I can't do stairs. I can't even use a bathtub, because I can't lift my legs that high.”

Others are starting to move forward. Paul and Pauline Draper — 75 and 74, respectively — found a new apartment in Wheat Ridge, though it's $300 more a month than their unit at Windermere. They had to refinance their car to afford the security deposit, Pauline said.

“At least we have something,” Pauline said. “We were finally able to visit our apartment in the Windermere, and everything's covered in soot. We may end up simply abandoning a lot of it.”

The City of Littleton is keeping a close eye on the situation, Brinkman said. The city donated $20,000 to fire-related causes on Dec. 11 — $7,500 each to the Red Cross of Colorado and Love Inc., both of whom have worked closely with residents, and another $5,000 to the Arapahoe County Foundation's fire victims fund.

“Hopefully they'll be able to put the money to work right away,” Brinkman said.

The mayor expressed frustration with Tebo-Orvis' response to the disaster.

“There doesn't seem to be any compassion or generosity from those people,” Brinkman said. “Fortunately, we have a community who cares.”

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