May 29, 2010 in City

Displaced tenants going home

Landlord increasing security as some residents return after suspected arson damaged building
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Hifumi En Apartments resident Jeff Talley packs up his belongings at the West Wynn Motel on Friday. Some Hifumi En residents were allowed to return to their upstairs apartments Friday, three weeks after a suspicious fire displaced 41 elderly and disabled tenants. The downstairs units remain uninhabitable.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

Nearly half of the 41 tenants of a South Hill apartment building were allowed to return to their homes on Friday, three weeks after they were displaced by a suspected arson fire.

All but one of the 20 units on the second floor of the Hifumi En Apartments, 926 E. Eighth Ave., have been restored by contractors after the May 8 fire, which investigators believe was deliberately set in a first-floor common area.

It was the fifth fire in the building in the past three years.

“I’m worried,” Hifumi En resident Jeff Talley said Friday. “Everyone is.”

The apartment building serves low-income elderly or disabled tenants.

Seven people were hospitalized with injuries resulting from the fire. There have been no arrests in the investigation.

Talley spoke as he packed up his belongings at the West Wynn Motel on West Sunset Boulevard, where he and several other Hifumi En residents were temporarily boarded largely at the expense of their landlord, Northeast Washington Housing Solutions. Others found accommodations with family or friends.

The city of Spokane was able to free up some federal funds to help pay the cost of the emergency housing.

The housing authority and SNAP, the nonprofit social services agency, scrambled to find accommodations for the displaced tenants at a time when Spokane-area lodging was largely booked for the Lilac Festival.

On Friday, seven Hifumi En residents were still staying in motel rooms, and one person remained hospitalized.

The rest of the units are expected to be inhabitable again in four to six weeks.

About half of the tenants were told Wednesday in a letter from the housing authority that they could return to their apartments and that security cameras were still being installed in common areas of the apartment building.

Until the system is activated, a security company will patrol the building at night, the letter stated.

“There should have been changes after the first fire,” said Talley, a resident of the Hifumi En for the past seven years.

He was concerned for fellow tenants.

“It’s hard to go through this,” Talley said. “It’s the hardest thing to walk away from your home.”

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