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UA Homes fire victims relocate

Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday September 10, 2002

Residents of Berkeley’s UA Homes left stranded by the Aug. 26 fire at 1040 University are on the move again. 

After 49 of the 69 displaced residents spent nearly two weeks in $84 rooms at the nearby Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Golden Bear motel, the Red Cross relief tab is maxed. Management of the subsidized housing complex, Resources for Community Development (RCD), is now legally obligated to pick up the bill, and the company is expected to begin moving residents to less expensive accommodations.The four-story building, which fire officials say burned after a pile of clothes accidentally caught fire, is estimated to need about a month for repairs. 

That means about $100,000 in monthly lodging for RCD until the residents can move back into their homes. 

The residents will be housed at less expensive rooms at the Nash Motel, Budget Inn and Twin Peaks Motel in Berkeley, as well as single resident occupancy hotels owned by RCD in Oakland. 

“We’re going to make sure everyone has a roof over their head, but we need spend a reasonable amount that won’t deplete our resources” said Kerry Williams, head of RCD. 

He estimated that the Red Cross spent $80,000 to house and feed UA Homes tenants during the last two weeks. 

Residents seemed content with the change of address as long as they were assured a spot in one of the Berkeley hotels. 

“As long as they can provide me with a place in this city from now until the building is ready, I’ll be happy,” said Carl Johnson, a UA Homes resident. Johnson didn’t want to go to the Oakland RCD homes – the California Hotel and the Harrison Hotel – because they are known to house people who abuse drugs. 

But if Williams is accurate with his guesswork, the residents will be able move back to UA Homes during the first week of October.  

On Monday, an RCD architect submitted plans to renovate all but the six most-damaged rooms within William’s timeframe. The architect is waiting for city approval, expected within the week. Construction can begin soon after that. 

If the building is not ready by early October, RCD will have difficulty supporting the tenants. According to Williams, RCD has a cash reserve to cover the first month, but if the renovation work is delayed, RCD will have to scale back services.  

RCD is currently providing residents with far more than the law requires, city officials say. Under Berkeley’s relocation ordinance, RCD is responsible for paying a tenant the difference between the rent paid at UA Homes and rent at a temporary home. However, instead of asking the tenants – many who receive counseling for substance abuse or emotional issues – to find temporary accommodations, RCD has offered to pay for motels. 

For UA Homes residents the most immediate concern is not homelessness, but hunger. RCD does not have enough money to continue the Red Cross food voucher program. Unlike the hotels where they had been staying, most of their new hotel rooms will not have a microwave to cook inexpensive food. 

“I can’t afford to buy food every day,” said Mark Shimada.