Displaced tenants struggle to find housing after Berkeley apartment building fire

Mary Zheng/File
UC Berkeley seniors Laurel Chun, left, and Katherine Kim were among those displaced by the Nov. 18 fire.

For some dozens of evacuated residents whose Haste Street apartment was destroyed on Nov. 18, the first step in moving forward is moving into a new place.

In the aftermath of the biggest fire since the 1991 East Bay Hills fire, displaced Berkeley residents — many of whom are UC Berkeley students — struggle to find permanent housing, coping with the associated difficulties only through the assistance of friends, family and strangers in the Berkeley community.

Like most of the other residents living in the 39-unit building at 2441 Haste St., UC Berkeley sophomore Kimiya Hojjat was not home when her building went up in smoke. She arrived at the scene straight from dinner and watched flames burst from her third-floor window before she realized everything she had in her apartment would be destroyed. With very little in her immediate possession, Hojjat looked to her friends for a place to sleep.

Over the past few weeks, she has received help from both the American Red Cross for supplies and UC  Berkeley for temporary housing. Now, Hojjat is staying with old roommates until finals are over next month.

“We hope to be settled in and ready to restart our lives by late December,” she said.

The 68 tenants who lived in the apartments that spanned the upper four floors of the building are all accounted for and safe, the Berkeley Fire Department verified Wednesday, according to the city’s website.

Michelle Kniffin, associate director of Cal Housing Assignments, said there is no exact number of UC Berkeley students displaced by the fire, but so far they are working with approximately 20 residents to find new housing, with some students looking to stay in the halls for the rest of the school year.
Displaced students — both undergraduate and graduate students — have been offered temporary housing at no cost in lounge spaces and vacant rooms on campus. These students are also able to get free meals at Crossroads Dining Facility.

UC Berkeley seniors Katherine Kim and Laurel Chun were told they would be allowed to stay in an empty room in the Foothill Residence Halls for the rest of the semester.

Kim said friends and her church congregation have been “amazing” in providing food, clothing and other random items.

Last week, ASUC senators held a donation drive for tenants displaced by the fire, collecting everything from food to clothing to cooking utensils.

“The most difficult thing is keeping up with school work at this time of the semester when there are a lot of papers and projects and tests,” Chun said.

With finals coming up in the next couple weeks, displaced student tenants are comforted by the fact that there are available resources and people willing to help.

Chun also expressed gratitude for the Berkeley community, which she said has been helpful in this time of need. While the fire was devastating, she said it made her thankful to see the response of the community members.

Standing out in the cold with a Red Cross blanket around her as she watched her apartment burn, Chun said she talked to more Berkeley residents than when she lived in the building.

“It’s really amazing to feel the love of the Cal community just coming in to support us,” Kim said.