A Home At Last

Nonprofit Helps Couple Get House Back After A Year And A Half

August 18, 2009|By Sarah Fisher | Sarah Fisher,sarah.fisher@baltsun.com

Edward and Lorraine Williams had always wanted a front door with a screen instead of a side entrance and a roomier basement at their house in East Baltimore. But more than anything else, they just wanted to return to their home, severely damaged by fire a year and a half ago.

And early Monday morning, the couple, who were displaced by an electrical fire in March 2008 that injured Lorraine Williams and their year-old grandson, Khalil Butler, were able to move back into their fully rehabilitated two-story rowhouse.

They like to call it their "new home," even though their family has been living in the house in the 1700 block of E. Chase St. for generations. Edward Williams was born and raised there.

The Williamses received about $110,000 for the renovation as part of the relocation program run by East Baltimore Development Inc., a nonprofit group redeveloping part of the east side.

Homeowners living on blocks in East Baltimore that EBDI wishes to preserve and redevelop have the option to renovate their homes instead of being relocated. The owners can use some of the relocation funds allotted to them by law to defer the costs, according to Christopher Shea, EBDI's interim president and CEO.

The project to rehabilitate the Williamses' home became a priority after the fire, Shea said.

On March 12, 2008, Edward Williams came home around lunchtime and knew something was wrong when he got out of his car and smelled smoke.

He ran inside his home and found his wife lying on the floor upstairs, nearly unconscious from smoke inhalation. She clutched their grandchild, whom she had wrapped in wet towels to protect from the heat.

"She called my name," Williams said. "She had the baby covered with her body. ... Her shoes were melted to her feet."

Williams, a retired medical technician, took the child from his wife and grabbed her by the clothing around her neck. He managed to drag his wife down the winding staircase and toward the door when neighbors rushed in to help.

"I don't know where I got the strength from," he said.

He escaped with no injuries. Lorraine Williams suffered burns on her back, arms, legs and feet, and her lung collapsed from the smoke. Their grandchild was burned but was released from the hospital the next day, Lorraine Williams said.

After the fire, life was "a struggle," Lorraine Williams said. They lived in an apartment in Northwest Baltimore for a year and a half and had to replace most of their belongings.

"I wanted to go home, even though I knew we couldn't," she said.

EBDI helped the Williamses secure a construction contract with Parkside Builders to help rebuild their home, according to Ann Wittenburg, construction manager with Parkside. After the fire, she said, the house was "basically a shell."

Construction began in April and finished last weekend. The second floor was unstable because of fire damage, and the entire house needed to be gutted.

At the Williamses' request, Parkside Builders kept the two bedrooms, placed the washer and dryer upstairs instead of in the basement, moved the entrance from the side of the house to the front, and expanded the basement.

The Williamses were more than ready to move back, even though they don't have all of their furniture yet. "It might take us a while" to move in, Lorraine Williams said. "But you know what, it's OK because we're home, and I can't ask for anything more."

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