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Residents say homes in disrepair before fire
Debris sits outside Building S Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones
Residents who live in Building S of the Raintree Apartments were allowed back into their homes Wednesday morning, a day after a fire forced them to spend the night in a motel.   
“It smells bad in here,” Marvin Hunt said while stepping over water puddles, pieces of burnt wood and discarded insulation scattered in the breezeway of his apartment building.
“I can’t live like this. My son has bronchitis and we can’t live with all of this smoke smell,” he added. “If my son gets sick, I tell you what …”
It was the first time Hunt, his wife Stephanie and their five children had been inside their home since Tuesday afternoon when a fire was accidently ignited by a maintenance man doing repair work in the laundry room of an adjacent apartment.
“I don’t even think he was certified to be doing that kind of work,” Hunt said. “I used to be a maintenance man here and I can tell you he probably was not.”
According to Hinesville Fire Chief Lamar Cook, the fire started while the unidentified maintenance man was using a torch to sweat together plumbing fixtures.
The fire started in the wall of the laundry room, Cook said, and burned into the attic, trapping smoke and heat there.
Firefighters were able to put out the flames in 30 minutes, but had to put several holes in the roof of the building for ventilation.
The Hunts said the discomfort they felt walking into the smoke and water damaged apartment was like many experiences they have had while living at the HUD-subsidized complex for three years. 
“It’s bad. All these apartments need work … they aren’t getting no work done. If they do do the work,” Hunt said, “It’s half done. I got five kids and the point about it is they half do the wires, if something is broke you gotta wait three, four and five months to get it fixed.”
“They have a lot of excuses and every time we go to see her, she just blows us off,” he added, referring to onsite manager April Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who works for Dewar Properties Inc., declined to comment. Residents said she has been the manager for a little less than a year.
“One of the ladies asked her yesterday what were we going to do about food for the night and she just said, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you get some meat and bread out of your refrigerator’,” Hunt said.
“We couldn’t even go back into our apartments,” Stephanie Hunt said. “Someone had to let me borrow some shoes for my baby to wear.”
“But that’s how she treats us,” Hunt added. “It’s just frustrating because it’s like nobody cares about us.”
“People think that we just sit home and collect a check, but that’s not true,” Stephanie Hunt said.  “Most of us work. We should be treated as fairly as everyone else.”
Across the hall from the Hunts’ apartment, Vanisha Goodlow and her mother Karol Baker were gathering Goodlow’s things.
Two gaping holes from where firefighters used an axe to open up hot spots in the roof the day before brought in the only light into the apartment.
“They’re coming at 1:30 to move me,” she said. “I will be living at the Treetop Apartments until they get everything fixed in here.”
As she used a broom to sweep up trash in the apartment’s hallway, Goodlow stepped over wooden planks in the floor.
“We had a leak in the bathroom about six months ago and it ruined the tile. They came in to fix the leak, said they would be back to fix the floor and they have not been back since.”
Goodlow grew up at the now crime-ridden and rundown apartments.
“As a matter of fact, this is the exact same building where we lived,” Baker said.
After her marriage to a soldier dissolved in 1987, Baker said she used the low-income housing as a stepping stone for her and her two children.
“Raintree opened up the doors for me to get up on my feet, but things were different back then,” Baker said. “People cared about each other and their community. Now, I feel like everyone is just out for themselves.”

Coming Sunday: Raintree owner tells of financial and bureaucratic problems. HUD officials tell how subsidized housing works.

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