Nova Scotia

Family of seven in Halifax struggles to find rental home after fire

A Halifax family of seven is desperately looking for a place to live after a house fire destroyed the interior of their home and most of their belongings last week.

'We just want a home like everyone else,' says family member

Anthony Makhoul and Souraya Zreik stand on Wendy Jones's front porch, with bags and boxes of donated items behind them. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

A Halifax family of seven is desperately looking for a place to live after a house fire destroyed the interior of their home and most of their belongings last week.

Souraya Zreik lived in the house on Stonehaven Road with her three young children, two adult half-siblings and mother. Zreik and her mother were in the house when the fire broke out.

"She kept saying, 'I can't lose this house. It's my life,'" Zreik said of her mother.

Zreik and her family moved to Halifax from Lebanon 27 years ago and had been in the house for about a year and a half. Zreik said everything they've ever owned was in that house.

Her insurance company first placed the family in a hotel, then moved them to an Airbnb so they would have a kitchen to prepare meals.

The temporary accommodations are covered, but Zreik said the insurance company calls daily to ask if she's found a place to live.

Difficulty finding a new home

Zreik and her family have made calls and set up appointments to view houses, but have had no luck.

As soon as a landlord or property manager hears the number of people looking to live in the house, they turn them down, she said.

Anthony Makhoul and Souraya Zreik sort through clothing and toy donations at Jones's house. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Zreik's half-brother, Anthony Makhoul, took the lead in finding them a new home, so Zreik could deal with the insurance adjusters.

"It's kind of a hard spot because you don't want people to feel bad for you," Makhoul said. "You just want to be seen as another person trying to rent the place. I don't want to make it seem like we're begging for a home or anything. We just want a home like everyone else."

The family is looking for a four-bedroom house, or a three-bedroom plus den, in the range of $1,800 per month.

"I've tried to explain it to them and they sympathize with me, to a degree," said Makhoul. "But at the same time you also understand they're landlords, they also need to do their job, and you can't get mad at them for that. They're just doing what's best for them."

Outpouring of community support

Zreik said she doesn't have much of a network here in Halifax, but she's blown away by the community's support since the fire.

Wendy Jones stands in her kitchen, holding up the flyer she printed asking for donations. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

"It was overwhelming, in an amazing way," Zreik said. "We didn't know the volume of people who wanted to help. We were so grateful and appreciative. It was the best thing."

Wendy Jones lives a block away from Zreik's house. Five days after the fire, Jones introduced herself to Zreik and told her she would help in any way she could.

Jones printed out flyers asking for donations — clothing, toys, books, linens and kitchen items — and passed them around to seven houses in her neighbourhood. One of the neighbours took a photo and posted it to social media.

"The rest is history," Jones said.

Within 48 hours, Jones had received more than 200 offers to help, through texts, phone calls and emails.

"I was run off my feet," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

Anthony Makhoul, left, Souraya Zreik, middle, and Wendy Jones. 'She's changed our lives,' Zreik said of Jones. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Jones also came on board to help the family find a new home, making calls and going to view rentals with Makhoul.

"She's changed our lives, honestly," Zreik said of Jones. "She's been the best help we've ever had."

The family does not have an exact date for when they need to be out of the Airbnb, but they're hoping to find a house to rent as soon as possible.