When Georgia Apartments closed on Saturday, there were at least a handful of folks left without a place to stay.
Tony Milner, with Salt Lake City’s Housing and Neighborhood Development department, said he knew where individuals living in 28 of the 31 units were going to go. As far as the people living in the three remaining units — he’s not sure.
One family never showed up for their appointment to find housing. One man had a studio apartment lined up and seemingly disappeared. A husband and wife who qualified for a new apartment were ready to sign the lease and get the keys when they changed their mind, saying the one-bedroom apartment was too small for them and their belongings.
When Milner asked them where they planned to stay, he said the couple shrugged and said maybe they’d go to the motel.
Yet the majority of families affected by the Salt Lake City Fire Department-mandated evacuation of the apartments, off State Street a block from the County Government Center, have found housing much better — and cheaper — than the quarters they once called home. Milner said that includes two people who are blind and two elderly people who are now staying in specialized apartments.
As so many people move into homes in better conditions than the Georgia Apartments, Milner said it seems that “a lot of times, people just don’t know their options” and the resources available to them.
Those resources were on display this week. Milner said he was proud of the work from community partners, including the city and county housing authorities, The Road Home, Utah Community Action, Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation and others.
He said many of the partners coordinated Monday on short notice when fire officials red-tagged the complex because of sprinkler pipes at risk of freezing as a result of numerous broken glass windows and doors, in addition to outdated wiring and broken heating systems.
For complex residents, the week was a whirlwind. At first, residents had until Thursday to find new homes. Then the deadline was moved to Saturday at noon, when city officials thought most residents could be settled into new apartments.
As tenants scrambled to find boxes and new homes after the evacuation order, city prosecutors charged building owner Carol Lunt with 15 misdemeanor counts for alleged violations of the fire code. If convicted, she could spend time in jail. She was also served a cease-and-desist letter from the city on Wednesday for telling residents they didn’t have to leave.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, a few people were still moving their belongings from the building, now surrounded by a chainlink fence adorned with a no trespassing sign that warned, “You’re On Camera.” By 5 p.m., SLCPD and fire crews had finished sweeping the apartments, finding one household finishing packing and a man who said he didn’t know he was supposed to leave. After 11 p.m., when the city’s fire watch leaves the premises, Milner said it will be up to Lunt to secure the property — and bring it back up to code if she wants to continue renting to tenants.
Former resident Dan Marcotte told The Salt Lake Tribune that while he’s staying with family for the time being, this whole situation “could really be a blessing in disguise because [he’s] finally able to get out.”
The 67-year-old said the apartments weren’t so bad when he first moved in more than two years ago, but have been declining and more people who are homeless have been staying in and around the building, which is covered in graffiti and trash.
Marcotte said he has an appointment with a group that can help him get together rent and a deposit for an apartment on Tuesday. He’s hopeful it will work out.
That’s not the case for Melanie “Precious" Ellis and her husband and roommates. They don’t fit neatly into the mold of households living in the complex because they weren’t on their unit’s lease. Still, Ellis said, she’d been staying there for six months and it was home.
She and her roommates watched Saturday as the remaining residents packed up their belongings and left the apartment. Ellis, who has multiple medical conditions including kidney and heart failure, started a GoFundMe earlier in the week to raise funds to moving expenses after learning she had to leave the apartment. It hasn’t raised a dollar.
About 4:45 p.m., she told The Tribune, she was just “wandering around.”
“I mean, I’m happy for everyone else,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy that they got placements, but it’s like there’s some of us that are still out in the cold — and it’s cold.”
Milner said even though they weren’t on the lease, he could help them apply for housing help. He said he doesn’t have a record that Ellis tried to talk to him, but said one of her roommates did. Milner said the city tried to connect him with services and he never followed up.
Ellis said she did talk with city officials to try to get help, and they recommended she and her husband go to a shelter.
Prospects were better for Amber Gardner and her family, including her husband, Robert, their three daughters and their pets.
At the beginning of the week, she told The Tribune she didn’t know what she was going to do, and wondered how she could apply and be approved for a new apartment in her family’s price range before they were evacuated.
With the help of a local church group, the Gardners moved into a house Saturday morning.