It’s been a rough week for Hal Pearson and his partner Sandy Zapitosky, but the legally blind couple count themselves lucky.
“All I can say is that we’re both very thankful,” said Pearson, standing outside his parent’s apartment building in Lachine with Zapitosky.
Overnight June 5th, a fire tore through their apartment building on Brunswick Boulevard in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (DDO), forcing the displacement of at least 75 families.
Their unit was destroyed. “We lost everything,” Pearson said.
So did Nadine Saker.
“I had two cats,” Saker told Global News. “I couldn’t save them.”
She said she barely had time to save herself and her three year-old son.
“I just pitched him from the balcony,” she recalled.
According to her, a firefighter caught the boy after he was dropped from the first floor balcony, then she jumped.
Since then, she’s been struggling to find a new home in the West Island near her job and her son’s daycare. She said it hasn’t been easy to find something in her budget.
“For a 3 1/2 it’s $900 and up,” she explained. “That’s not including the electricity or appliances.
According to her, the rent at the apartment that burned was just over $700.
Judy Wong, executive director of the Catholic Action Montreal, who’s been helping Saker, agrees that it has been hard for the displaced families to find an affordable apartment.
“If they found a place, they’re paying one and a half times what they were paying,” she pointed out.
Cynthia Danquah, whose parents also lost their home in the fire, said she’s been having the same problem trying to find her parents a new place.
For now they’re staying at the Holiday Inn, Pointe Claire.
“Their income isn’t enough to be able to afford the $1,200 that people have found,” she said.
Housing advocates say only 25 per cent of housing stock in the West Island are rentals.
According to Piotr Boruslawski of the Table de Quartier Sud de l’Ouest-de-l’Île, “When a building like these in DDO burn down it takes up a big chunk of the rental stock.”
When asked, DDO mayor Alex Bottausci didn’t give specifics on long-term solutions, but he said there are plans to help the displaced tenants who can’t afford high rent.
“We’re trying our best to see how we can bridge the difference between x and y,” he said, “but we’re only at the beginning of that picture.”
Thanks to help that has been pouring in from the community, some tenants and their families say there’s hope.
Zapitosky and Pearson found an apartment Wednesday which, according to them, are in some ways better than what they had before, and not much more expensive.
“It’s perfect because the street behind is quiet yet it’s within walking distance of the malls,” Zapitosky smiled.
Pearson noted that the elevators even have braille.
Saker also found an apartment Wednesday within her budget and close to her work.
“Close to everything,” she beamed. “I mean my hairdresser is just here,” she said, pointing across the street.
Community workers hope the other tenants will also find something before long.