January 10, 2018

Griggs Farm Fire Survivors Still Need Housing

By Anne Levin

Since the December 27 fire at the Griggs Farm complex that took one life and displaced 35 residents, the local community has rallied to donate funds, food, clothing, and household items. An anonymous couple offered to make a matching gift of $36,000.

Now, the call is out for housing options.

“We really need places for these folks to stay in the short term, and we need the community’s help to identify places where people can keep their kids in the school district and maintain their closeness to the community,” said Ed Truscelli, executive director of PCH Development Corporation, an affiliate of Princeton Community Housing (PCH). “We’re building a list of opportunities to match people up. If anyone has room in their house, or if an organization has housing to set aside for a period of time, that’s what we need.”

PCH, the nonprofit that owns and manages Griggs Farm, was scheduled to meet with residents at Monument Hall on Tuesday night (January 9). “People want to know what’s next, and we are going to try and answer that as best we can,” said Truscelli. “Folks are very emotional, and rightfully so. This is a very shocking thing to happen.”

The cause of the two-alarm blaze at the complex on Billie Ellis Lane is still under investigation. “We have not heard anything from the property owners or insurance companies yet, so I imagine they are still doing their assessment on what they’re going to need to do,” said Robert Gregory, Princeton’s director of emergency management.

Built in 1989, the complex has smoke alarms but does not have sprinklers, which were not required at the time of construction. The fire is believed to have broken out in the apartment of Larisa Bartone, 73, who was found dead in her third-floor apartment. Because of the fatality, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is involved in the investigation.

There are 24 apartments in the building that burned. Those whose homes have been made uninhabitable were first put up at the Nassau Inn. Those without a place to go are currently being housed at an extended stay hotel on Route 1, paid for by PCH.

Truscelli said PCH is thankful for the community’s outpouring of donations of food and clothing, much of which has been processed at Trinity Church. “But at this point, we’re looking for gift certificates to local stores, and funds we can use either for them directly, or to offset some of the costs of temporary housing,” he said.

The Griggs Farm condominium association is responsible for the structures, while PCH is responsible for improvements to the interiors. “The condo association’s insurance is taking the lead on the part of the building that needs to be rebuilt,” Truscelli said. “It’s fair to say that it will take several months, which is why we’re trying to help people out.”

Princeton’s Human Services Department has been actively involved in helping PCH address the issues. “One of the things I’ve been talking to the county about is the explosion that happened in Ewing (at a condominium complex in March 2015), and how they managed,” said Human Services Director Elisa Neira. “They have shared a few tools with us that we can put in place.”

PCH has created a Griggs Farm Fire Relief Fund.

For more information, visit www.princetoncommunityhousing.org.