Almanac

Viewpoint - August 14, 2013

Guest opinion: Housing donors needed for victims of Redwood City fire

by Warren Slocum

Imagine how you would feel if you and your family lost everything in a fire and you couldn't find a new place to live? Now imagine your home was one of the very few affordable places to live in one of the most expensive areas of the country.

With one-bedroom units in Redwood City commanding an average of $2,053 per month (an increase of 8.2 percent over last year), the victims of the July 7 six-alarm fire at the Hallmark House Apartment building on Woodside Road are in desperate straits to duplicate the rare living arrangements they had.

Eighty people (out of 97) have not been able to find a place to live in San Mateo County that they can afford. After moving from a temporary shelter at the National Guard Armory to local motels, the fire victims are facing yet another challenge: They have to vacate the motels in 30 days. They, along with so many others, must compete for a very limited number of affordable housing units in this market.

County motels have provided accommodations to the fire victims up to now. However, motels are not permanent housing solutions. They have done their part in dealing with emergency housing. We thank them.

We are now asking San Mateo County apartment building owners for help. We ask that you consider offering one vacant unit in your building to a fire victim. We realize this is a unique request, but these people have lost their housing because of a fire and not through any fault of their own.

For those people with vacant in-law units, motels with living units and home-share opportunities, we ask that you help. We're not asking that the unit be free — we're asking that it be affordable. And we're not asking that it be forever — we're asking that it be for as long as the tenant wants to call it home.

We're not asking for multiple units — we're asking for a single unit.

If enough housing rental units aren't found in the next couple of weeks for these people, the 80 fire victims will be forced to look for housing in places like Modesto, Fresno or Galt — communities that are not known, not "home."

Can't we do better as a community? Can't we find a way to accommodate the victims of this tragedy? These fire victims are fellow Peninsula residents; some are veterans, seniors, families with children and people with disabilities. This could have happened to any of us. We ask the apartment building community in Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and San Carlos for their compassion and action.

Help just one individual, couple or family who are fire victims to stay in our county, stay connected to their friends, doctors, dentists, schools, favorite parks, stores and familiar places. Help them keep what's left of what they know as "home."

Just one unit. That's what we're asking.

To offer a unit to a fire victim, please contact Supervisor Warren Slocum at (650) 363-4570 or wslocum@smcgov.org. His office will coordinate an appropriate referral match.

Warren Slocum represents the 4th District on the Board of Supervisors and lives in Redwood City.

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