The Diocese of Southeast Florida bought St. Andrews Residence in 2009. Photo: St. Andrews Residence

[Episcopal News Service] Some residents of a senior housing facility owned by the Diocese of Southeast Florida that has been uninhabitable for over two months can begin returning to their homes this week, Bishop Peter Eaton wrote in a letter on Aug. 29.

The occupants of 127 out of the 182 units at St. Andrews Residence, a waterfront high-rise in West Palm Beach run by the diocese as affordable housing for seniors, can return starting Sept. 1 under phase one of the re-entry plan, Eaton wrote to the residents.

“I am hopeful that this letter … will provide a light at the end of the tunnel,” Eaton wrote.

All 177 residents were forced to leave indefinitely in mid-June after an electrical malfunction caused smoke in the building, and most of them have since been living in hotel rooms paid for by the St. Andrews board, using funds from the diocese. Some were upset about being moved into unfamiliar locations during a pandemic and worried that they might be left homeless if the board stopped paying for their lodging before the repairs were completed, a possibility raised in a memo sent to the residents on Aug. 2.

The repairs have taken so long because of the complexity of the electrical problems, the pandemic and the need to re-inspect each unit before it can be cleared for occupancy, Eaton and the property management company have said. While the building’s electrical system is being rebuilt, residents of the 127 units that have passed inspection can return in stages from Sept. 1-3.

The bishop’s letter gave no information about when residents of the remaining units can return and said that their hotel rooms and meals are covered through Sept. 4. When asked what would happen to those residents then, Aimee Adler Cooke, a communications consultant speaking on behalf of the diocese, said, “The extension of funding for the hotel and meal stays is decided on a weekly basis and announced on Wednesdays.”

All the residents will have to leave the building again for one or two days in late September as the building is switched from temporary power transmission to the new permanent system. Eaton said the board has secured funding to provide hotels, meals and transportation for all who cannot stay with friends or family during that time. All work is expected to be complete by Oct. 1, Eaton said.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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