Rooming house tenants displaced by a fire in uptown Saint John on Wednesday may have to wait up to three months before they’re allowed to return home.
The estimated two dozen people lived at the Lantern House on Princess Street.
The rooming house house was damaged after the adjacent building, the old Lyric Theatre on Charlotte Street, was destroyed by arson and had to be demolished.
Fire officials initially hoped residents would be allowed back in within a couple of days.
But the extent of the damage to the rooming house is far worse than first thought, especially to the main exterior wall facing the fire.
"One to three months is my understanding before they can return," said Lois Merritt, a community outreach worker for Fresh Beginnings.
"That depends on construction and ensuring that the building is safe," she said.
Merritt has been scrambling to help the tenants find temporary, affordable housing elsewhere.
She said it's no easy feat, since many of them are on social assistance, living on a mere $537 a month.
But after years in the business, she knows many landlords, she said.
And as of Friday afternoon, she had successfully placed 12 of the people in places with monthly rents of about $350.
"Just a few simple phone calls, some of the landlords that offer rooming houses, they were more than accommodating," said Merritt.
"They were more than willing to help. They were like, ‘Yes, I have rooms,’ and ‘I’ll open up more rooms.’ ‘We’ll take them temporarily,’ ‘We’ll decrease rents to assist.’
"So landlords working with landlords and landlords working with the community has been wonderful."
Merritt is still working to help the other displaced tenants, who have been staying at the Howard Johnson Fort Howe Plaza in the city’s north end.
Meanwhile, two men and a youth have been charged with arson in connection with the fire, which started at 127 Charlotte St., and spread to the old Lyric Theatre.
Samuel Nolan, 19, will be sent for a psychiatric assessment before entering a plea.
Roger Chiasson, 20, pleaded not guilty on Thursday and has been remanded in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.
And a 15-year-old boy, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has been released on house arrest and is expected to enter a plea on June 4.
The old theatre, which was built in the late 1800s, and the adjacent building, which was from the same era, both sustained significant damage in the blaze and were deemed unsafe and had to demolished.