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Senior fire victim’s home saved for now

As an activist and advocate for her Beltzhoover neighborhood, Leona Morton has helped others for a considerable portion of her 85 years. But after an April house fire resulted in a condemnation order, it was Morton who needed help. Last week she got it.

STILL STANDING—Though condemned, Leona Morton’s home was saved from demolition for six more moths thanks to intervention from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office. (Photo by Gail Manker)

“They were going to tear it down, and I haven’t gotten some of my belongings out,” said Morton. “My son went down and spoke to people in the Mayor’s office, and they asked the judge to stop it and he did.”

Joanna Doven, spokesperson for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said they were glad to help.

“We are mindful that our seniors have a safe place to live and have adequate time to take care of their properties,” she said. “We are pleased the judge gave her an extension, but we are also mindful of the concerns neighbors have about the safety of the property.”

Morton said her son had boarded up the windows and installed steel doors to secure the building and that the damage was confined to one corner of the house. She said the delay in getting her things was due to a series of related hospital stays.

“I plan on getting my stuff out of there,” she said. “But I’m also fighting with the insurance company about the settlement.”

City Bureau of Building Inspection Chief Inspector John Jennings said in cases of fire, if the damage exceeds a certain value, a condemnation order is routinely issued. That doesn’t necessarily mean the building must be demolished, just that it’s currently uninhabitable.

“It’s theoretically possible she could have it repaired, but that’s between her and the insurance company. They do their own evaluations,” he said. “The damage was extensive enough to warrant a condemnation notice. But we sent several letters and got no response about whether it would be repaired or demolished. Finally we hired our own demolition contractor.”

The judge’s order, which stays any action for six months, also helps the bureau, said Jennings.
“It means we don’t have to keep paying the contractor,” he said. “We have to pay for the time he already put in, moving equipment and dumpsters to the site, but that’s it. In six months, if nothing has been done we’ll see if he wants to do it for the same price or if we have to bid it again.”
Morton said she is okay for the time being staying in a hotel.

“The insurance is paying for that, but I’m still going to fight them I had a full-replacement policy, $289,000. They only want to pay $69,000,” she said. “But I’m okay. I worked for Sears & Roebuck for 25 years. I’ve got a good retirement and Social Security. So, I’m fine.”
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