‘Not a better place to live’ — Tenants being relocated after fire

Published 4:00 pm Monday, March 13, 2023

Fourteen tenants are back in apartments after the Brookwood Apartment Complex fire three weekends ago.

A fast-moving fire consumed three of four buildings in the Brookwood complex on East Chippewa Street in Brookhaven in the mid-night hours of Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25-26. Twenty-six residents were displaced, and two — Jerry Ferdinand and Terrance Lewis — lost their lives.

After immediate placement in the shelter of the Brookhaven Building, residents were housed temporarily in a local hotel, or went home with family members. Now, eight have been able to return to their apartments in the undamaged building of the complex and plans are in place to rehouse the others.

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“We are actively getting the other tenants placed into units,” said Brookhaven Housing Authority manager Maxine Jones. “Last week, we transitioned four from the hotel into [other BHA] units that became available, and one went with a family member. This week, we’re transitioning an additional four into their new apartments.”

The eight apartments have been vacated by previous BHA residents, becoming available for these displaced individuals. As units continue to become available, more residents will be moved into those, Jones said.

“We don’t know how long that’s going to take, though, because we had no vacancies at the time this fire occurred,” Jones said. “It’s a work in progress, but we are working as fast as we can.”

The Housing Authority owns six housing facilities, including Brookwood. One, Southview, is designated strictly for elderly residents. The others are for whoever needs them.

“As people give notice that they’re leaving, these tenants will get first option on the apartments,” Jones said. “No one else on the waiting list will be housed until all 20 residents are back in apartments and set up. But until then, the Housing Authority is paying for them to be at a hotel until we can get them an apartment.”

BHA is overseen nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and at the state level by Morrow Metropolitan Housing Authority. Jones said she secured from Morrow provision from other housing authorities to adopt a family.

“They are going to pay for the setup of a living room — sofa, coffee table, end table — a kitchen with a table and four chairs, and a bedroom with nightstand and dresser,” she said. “It’s all brand new furniture. T. H. Perkins here in Brookhaven has given us a great price, so they’ll have that as they move into the apartments. All of the residents will get that.”

More than 200 other tenants also have to be attended to, Jones said, so not all resources and time can be concentrated on Brookwood. The process takes time.

“We are working with the mayor and the Emergency Management coordinator to do everything, but it has to be done in stages,” said Jones. “No other Housing Authority in Mississippi has had that many residents displaced at one time. We have to be able to efficiently meet our tenants’ needs. This is going to be a long-term process.”

Once residents are housed, they will need other items — linens, towels, etc. — but that is another stage of the process, and people will have opportunity to donate again, if they choose to do so. Enough clothing has been donated to fill four storage units.

“Volunteers have sorted the clothes by size, type, male and female, and the residents can go once a week and take what they need,” Jones said.

“The people are in dire need of help because they lost everything,” said BHA Maintenance Supervisor Jerry Corley. “There’s a process for everything. You can’t haphazardly jump into anything. But they’re going to the [units] and getting what they need to meet their needs.”

“Our entire Housing Authority team has been working tirelessly since this took place on Feb. 26,” Jones said. “Executive Director Jeffrey Adams, Assistant Executive Director Arlene Carter, director over maintenance Jerry Corley … and the maintenance team has been wonderful — Vincent Dixon, Clint DeMyers, Hampshire Smith, Lavelle Jackson, Patrick Graham and Henry Watson.”

Jones encourages residents to keep up with BHA’s progress via the City of Brookhaven website, brookhaven-ms.gov, where what is needed and what stage the transition is in will be regularly updated.

“We couldn’t do this without the help and donations of the community. It has just been awesome how this community has just rallied around our tenants. Our restaurants, our businesses, our churches, the elected officials — breakfast, lunch and dinner have been donated by the Brookhaven-Lincoln County community,” Jones said.

“I just want to say, ‘Thank you! Way to go!’ There’s not a better place to live.”