Terry Lee said he feels lucky. “Really lucky.”
After an early morning fire pushed him out of his apartment near downtown Grand Forks last month, the 58-year-old only spent a few days at a nearby hotel before he found housing on the fourth floor of Ryan House, a federally subsidized apartment building about a block from the city center.
His sister in law, Janey Lee, scurried across town collecting the paperwork apartment staff needed, and Ryan House staff had a one-bedroom spot open.
Friends and family donated an apartment’s worth of furniture, and Lee said he plans to get internet service hooked up soon. For the moment, a TV hooked to an antenna gets about six channels. Nearby, a pair of fish -- “Ug” and “Lee” -- swim around in a donated aquarium.
The wait for HUD housing can be interminably long for some people. The line for vouchers via the Grand Forks Housing Authority can stretch for months. Ryan House is privately owned but has a contract with the federal government to provide low-income housing which, effectively, means a second waiting line for the same sort of service.
Lee’s new digs cost $363 each month -- more expensive than his old place, but still within his $700 to $800 monthly income. The $1,000-plus raised by a GoFundMe campaign is going toward rent and the apartment’s deposit. Another $450 from the YMCA at which he works bought a microwave, dishes, a can opener and other essentials.
“I've got a fridge full of stuff, now,” Lee said. “I’ve never had a fridge full of stuff.”
Meanwhile, Solomon Tesfamariam, who also found himself suddenly searching for a home after the same fire, might leave town. Lee’s next-door neighbor in the now-gutted “Fourth and Fourth” apartments crashed at Northlands Rescue Mission for two days, and has been staying at a friend’s house since then.
Tesfamariam, who worked irregular hours for a temp agency, said he’d prefer to stay in Grand Forks, but might head to Fargo in search of more stable -- and, more importantly, full-time -- work.
“I’d like to say here, but there’s not too many companies here,” he said. Tesfamariam immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in the 1990s, he said. “If I had a full-time job, I’d like to stay here. … I've got someone from my country, I’m staying with him. Grand Forks is a quiet place, a good place.”
Both men lived in the basement of an 18-unit apartment building at 321 N. Fourth St. Both men said they lived there because it was a relatively inexpensive option for them.
The fire that ruined the apartment building began at about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16. Lee was one of two people who were hospitalized. Authorities determined the fire started near a stove in a lower-level apartment, but could not determine the cause beyond that.