Theater demolition forces out tenants
Stuck in the middle of disputes between the city and the owner of the condemned Jeffris Theater is an untold story.
The women who with their children had to evacuate the Jeffris Flats, the apartments that abut the theater that’s being demolished, say their story has been left in the dust.
For Danielle Anderson, it means living in a hotel during her first week of starting school. It means living off of microwave food and cooking unbalanced meals for her 15-month-old daughter.
For Tamishia Rainey, it means living with her children, ages 6, 5, and 6 weeks, in a small hotel room with a mini fridge and microwave. It means relying on others because she doesn’t have a car. Back home, she was downtown where she could get to where she needed on her own.
Jim Grafft owns the brick building at 319 W. Milwaukee St. and is tearing it down. The YWCA owns the Jeffris Flats and uses them for transitional housing for women.
“He’s (Grafft) basically robbing me of my right to have my own home,” Anderson said. “He’s making money off of me being homeless.”
She said Grafft is taking his “sweet time” demolishing the building brick by brick so he can resell them. Grafft said it’s actually going faster by selling the bricks because the buyer stacks and removes them, and it saves Grafft the time of removing them and hauling them to the landfill himself.
The city ordered Anderson and Rainey to evacuate their apartments on Oct. 5, a day after the city condemned the partially demolished theater after an engineer deemed it unsafe. Officials said they fear the walls could collapse.
The YWCA paid for Anderson and Rainey to stay at the Baymont Inn & Suites last week, and the city likely will pay for their stay for the next month, said Martha Pearson, program director for YWCA transitional living program.
A third woman who had keys to her new apartment was not allowed to move in and is also staying at the hotel, she said.
Anderson and Rainey wonder why the demolition is taking so long and why Grafft has not communicated with them.
Removing asbestos is holding up the project, Grafft said, and he’s sent letters to the YWCA for the last couple years saying he wanted to tear down the building. Before he could do that, the YWCA had to make a back staircase self-supportive and separate from the theater, he said. On Saturday, he said he didn’t know if that had been done or if the YWCA’s engineer had signed off on it.
“They’re the ones that are holding things up in the back corner,” he said.
Kerri Parker, executive director of the YWCA, said there are a lot of facts in the situation under dispute, and the back staircase is now self-supported.
“The YWCA has done everything within its power to handle everything on our part in a timely manner,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rainey is adjusting to life in a new temporary home after giving birth to Jaionna six weeks ago.
Only one of the two Jeffris Flats buildings was evacuated, but women still living there can’t open their windows or use their laundry facility and their children can’t play on playground equipment installed last month, she said.
All the children were tested for lead poisoning, and results came back negative.
The move was another setback for Anderson, who said she’s put off attending school at the Academy of Cosmetology for so long. When she was forced to move just days before beginning class, she considered postponing it again.
“But then I though I’m not going to let them do that to me,” she said. “I’m not going to let them take that away from me.”