The U.S. Small Business Administration has opened an office at The Park of River Oaks condominiums in Calumet City, the scene of a devastating Memorial Day fire that left one woman dead and displaced dozens, offering loans to low interest to affected residents.
The office inside the clubhouse is staffed by SBA, and Kim Anderson was one of the first in line Friday to apply.
She said she has lived in the complex for eight years and now lives in a vacant unit on the property her sister owns. Anderson said she hoped a low-interest loan could help clean up smoke damage to her fifth-floor unit after the May 30 fire.
“I just miss my unit,” Anderson, 63, said Friday. “I have been so depressed since the fire.”
Wilhelmina K. Williamson, 85, died of inhalation and thermal injuries in the fire, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. Seven other people were injured in the fire, including three firefighters.
Williamson lived on the seventh floor of the building at 200 Park Ave. where the fire broke out. It is connected to two other buildings that overlook the River Oaks Golf Course.
About 200 residents were displaced, and Calumet city officials provided them with financial help, such as paying for temporary housing and food, and the city said that after the fire it had made arrangements for some residents to stay in hotels.
Gloreatha Jones, who lived on the fifth floor toward the rear, or east side, of the building where the fire broke out, said she applied for an SBA loan hoping to rent a small apartment.
He said he initially spent time in four area hotels, then with his sister in Chicago, and is now staying with his daughter in Dolton. Jones said she has been told it could be two years before she can move back into her condo.
Jones owns a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in The Park, but wants to move out of her daughter’s house until her condo is fixed up.
“I just need something small,” he said.
Jones said he did not have enough insurance coverage on his unit to cover the amount of damage that was done.
“I never thought the place would burn down,” he said.
Anderson said many residents of The Park are older, and she wonders how they’ve coped since the fire.
“There are a lot of older people here who use walkers and wheelchairs, and they’re on a fixed income,” he said.
Anderson said he wasn’t home when the fire broke out, but he got a text telling him about it.
Jones was on the balcony of her unit, which overlooks the pool, and heard a woman yell from the pool area warning other residents about the fire. Jones said he pulled the fire alarm and quickly left the building.
He said his unit suffered mostly water damage, but he was able to salvage virtually nothing. When asked if he thinks he’ll ever be able to return to his condo, Jones looked hopeful.
“I love this place,” he said.
The SBA is making loans available in response to a July 1 letter from Governor JB Pritzker requesting a disaster declaration.
For condo owners, home loans are available and the SBA limits loans to a maximum of $40,000 to repair or replace personal property, and the maximum loan to repair or replace real estate is $200,000. Loans can be repaid over a period of up to 30 years, and applying for a loan does not imply a commitment to accept it if approved, according to Janel Finley, an SBA spokeswoman who works at the outreach center.
If the borrower does not have access to credit elsewhere, the interest rate on home loans is just under 1.7%, but increases to 3.3% if they have the ability to obtain a loan through other sources , according to the SBA.
South Suburbs news updates delivered every Monday and Wednesday
The loan office is open from 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday. It will close on July 21.
Homeowners have until September 6 to submit loan applications and can do so in the office or by phone at 800-659-2955.
Not only residents of the building are eligible, Finley said.
Businesses that may have been affected because condo residents no longer frequent them can apply for economic injury loans, he said. The deadline to submit those loan applications is April 5, 2023.
Firefighters responded to the complex at 7:00 p.m. on May 30 and found an “intense fire” coming from a second-story unit in the rear, or east side, of Building 200, which is connected to other buildings in The Park. The fire spread to the seventh floor, according to Calumet City Fire Chief Glen Bachert.
A final report on the cause of the fire has not yet been completed, but there are indications that the fire started accidentally, according to Bachert.