Capitol Hill apartments catch fire, leaving residents in Limbo

A fire at the Capitol Hill Apartments earlier this month forced all of its residents out, with no timeline for when the Section 8 building at 701 East 14th Avenue might be evacuated again — leaving many people without belongings. Or any sense of assistance from property management.

“We’re told to get what you need within the next couple of days,” says tenant Scott Blevins, who has lived in the building for nearly eight years. “A lot of people beat themselves up for not grabbing more at this point.

“I was not contacted directly (by management),” he says. Western word. “They left a note on my door at the hotel, but some people are already talking about them applying for housing and they’re moving. Then some people say they’re staying, and I don’t know.” What do you believe?”

The fire broke out in the complex on the afternoon of September 7, forcing residents to act quickly. “I woke up, barely dressed and grabbed my phone, opened the door and it was full of smoke,” Blevins recalled. “I know this happened, but it doesn’t seem 100 percent real.”

After the Denver Fire Department put out the fire, the tenants were allowed in to grab some items, but most didn’t expect it to take this long for them to return. Blevins says he didn’t take into account the changing weather, and didn’t even wear a jacket for the cold fall morning.

According to Blevins, Avail Property Management was not responsive when asked about a timetable for coming back or about the possibility of stopping to pick up some additional items. He says this follows the pattern he experienced during his time living at the Capitol Hill Apartments.

The entire property includes nine buildings, but the building at 701 East 14th unionized last November to try to hold Avail accountable for a host of problems, including a lack of security and a failure to communicate with residents about maintenance issues.

The Capitol Hill Apartment Tenants Association has become the first Denver chapter of the Denver Aurora United Tenants Association, which advocates for housing dignity throughout the metro area. “In the beginning we had a woman who really worked with us,” Blevins says of Avil’s response to the community unionizing. However, that person no longer works there, and Blevins claims the same old problems persist, despite marginal improvement.

“There is still a communication problem, but it is better than it was before,” he says. “We’re still having problems with people getting into the building that wasn’t supposed to happen. There were cameras that were torn down and I feel like they should have been replaced very quickly, but that wasn’t the case.”

In the original letter the union sent to management last fall, it identified problems with the building’s electrical circuit, including an unlocked switch box that allowed access to anyone and lacked security. “This has always been a problem,” Blevins says. “We have neighbors that we have to run and flip the breaker every day because it blows and then they have no power to their unit.”

The electrical system caused the fire, according to the Denver Fire Department’s report on the incident, which Western word Obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.

“After investigation, it was found that there was an electrical panel in the entrance to the first floor that was causing a short circuit and sending sparks to the surrounding area,” the report said. “Smoky conditions worsened and further investigation revealed a fire burning inside the electrical panel and behind the wall adjacent to the panel.”

The official cause of the fire was confirmed as a malfunction in the electrical panel equipment.

Even before the fire, the city had identified the property as a problem due to work being done without a permit.

According to city documents, a stop-work order was issued on Sept. 6, which reads: “Published Stop Work Order for breaches in potential structural exterior wall.”

The building was required to obtain a permit by September 14 and pay late fees for not having the correct documents in the first place. If this order is violated, the penalty is a $99 fine or 180 days in jail – or both.

Avail is part of a national company known as PK Management out of Colorado. Christopher Baca, community development director for PK Management, says a misunderstanding with the contractor regarding permits is what ultimately caused the problem.

Baca added, “The work stoppage was related to pieces of brick in the wall.”

Residents have not been in the building since September 7.

After their evacuation, the tenants turned to the American Red Cross, which helped them find places to stay in hotels. Blevins says the Red Cross has been helpful and communicative in a way that the building’s management has not been.

Communication between residents is made more difficult by the fact that they are not all in the same hotel – or even in the same city. Blevins is at a hotel in Centennial. Others were sent to Lakewood. Many were sent to Thornton.

Being dispersed throughout the metro area was difficult for many, as their lives revolved around the Cape Hill area. For example, Blevins had to find a way to get downtown to see his doctor and replace some medications he hastily left behind after the fire. Although the community is strong, it has been difficult to coordinate who has information and support each other.

“Personally, my closest friends aren’t at my hotel, and that’s been a little difficult,” Blevins says. “The people I go to are on the other side of town.”

Click to enlarge

Scott Blevins (left) with organizers Lena Honeck Smith and Elisa Lucero last November.

Katie Cheshire

In response to the crisis, Baca says the PK administration is sending its condolences to the displaced residents.

“The Red Cross and our Community Development and Social Services team work with families, one-on-one, connecting them with donations and other community resources throughout the Denver metro area,” Baca says. “The Red Cross is also offering residents financial donations to help in the meantime.”

According to Baca, it is still not safe for residents to return to their homes, and the company does not have a timeline for when they might be able to do so. He added: “Once the permit is issued, each unit will be notified when they can enter their unit to collect their belongings.” “The department is also working with residents to find alternative housing throughout the Denver area.”

Baca says PK management will work with each family to find “suitable alternative housing,” and those with questions should contact the company directly.

According to the DFD report, there are an estimated $150,000 in property losses and $50,000 in content losses.

The building is covered by Section 8 Housing, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to Angelo Dalmasio, of Rocky Mountain HUD, property management is responsible for providing “temporary relocation that meets minimum basic needs.”

He adds: “For tenants who have been displaced for a longer period due to the situation and the necessary repairs, the landlord or agent must provide alternative housing for each family.” HUD is working with the owner to process pass-through requests to support this effort. During this displacement, HUD requires the landlord/agent to provide updates on the process and locations of all tenants. In this case, HUD will conduct a site visit to the property after the repairs.

According to the Denver Housing Authority, if the property is ultimately deemed uninhabitable, residents will be issued another voucher immediately.

While the administration works on repairs, Blevins says he and his neighbors are thinking about what to do. After the union succeeded in improving the administrative situation slightly, they moved from meeting weekly to more occasional meetings, and have not held a meeting recently. Although they are now dispersed, their current situation has led them to try to work together again.

“We’re scrambling to try to get back together,” Blevins says. “Being in different buildings and everyone having different information makes it really difficult to be one unified group.”

(Tags for translation)Capitol Hill Apartments

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