Aftermath of the Parker Avenue Fires,
Why No Resolution . . .
It has been nearly one year ago when on the night of last January 30th two brand new homes constructed by Habitat for Humanity – MidOhio were fully consumed by fire. Fortunately, no one was injured. Unfortunately, due to a downed, live power line, the fire department could not get water on the burning homes for 20 to 25 minutes, and so both structures were total losses.
Our staff was on site that evening while the fires raged to begin assisting both families in dealing with their loss. Early the next morning each family was provided $1,000 in cash from a caring donor to meet their immediate needs for food, clothing, etc. This donation was the beginning of the Phoenix Emergency Fund, a resource pool initiated by Habitat to help families who have had such disasters befall them, and it ultimately provided a total of $52,000 for the benefit of these families. With the help of insurance proceeds that both families have either received by check or been offered, we understand by their respective homeowner insurance companies, Habitat offered to rebuild their homes, employing our normal four-month build cycle on the property that each family still owns to this day. Each family was also covered by insurance for household goods, and with the insurance proceeds for both replacement of the homes and their contents – and the additional financial help provided by generous donors to the Phoenix Emergency Fund — each family had the potential to be made whole from the loss caused by the fire. I say “potential,” as we are no closer to final resolution now than the day following this terrible tragedy.
In the intervening period, Habitat for Humanity has made every effort to gain the cooperation from both families that would allow us to rebuild their homes. The families even refused to allow us to inspect the house foundations to determine if they could be salvaged. All we needed during these last 12 months was a “thumbs-up” to proceed with the reconstruction, along with access to the funds provided by the insurance companies to each family. Had that occurred shortly following the fires, we would have had both homeowners back in their new homes in June or July of last year, instead of stuck in a self-imposed limbo. As the neighbors are only too well aware, that reconstruction did not happen.
A number of our donors, volunteers and concerned citizens have asked the question, “Why?”
Because, rather than allow the homes to be rebuilt, each family retained the same attorney to represent them in this affair. According to their attorney, each family feels “entitled” to not only walk away from their mortgage, but also to be compensated in the amount of no less than $750,000, or a total of $1.5 million. These families also refused to use their insurance proceeds to satisfy the balance of their mortgages, which would have entitled them to the cash value of their built-up equity, all the while retaining whatever claims they wished to assert against Habitat for Humanity.
Those close to the affiliate know we have constructed more than 360 high-quality homes during our three decades, all of which have passed all final inspections by the city. Further, we have been recognized with quality and energy efficiency awards a number of times over the years.
I write today to say with conviction that this Habitat affiliate will not agree to such settlement terms, specifically as the fires were not Habitat’s fault. For if we did, the opportunity to serve some 15 future partner families that could be helped by way of homeownership may well be lost. Given our mission, such an outcome is completely unacceptable. It is a slap in the face to our generous donors and great volunteers who work so hard to make the dream of owning a home reality for those who apply and invest their own “sweat equity” in a home secured by a 0% mortgage. Ours is a “hand up, not a handout” philosophy. We will not accept that it is proper to wrongfully enrich the attorney and her clients at the expense of so many deserving families who await their turn for a safe, decent and affordable home of their own.