How A Deadly Fire Laid Bare Housing Issues In Greensboro

Dec 11, 2018

The front entrance to Apartment G at the Summit-Cone apartment complex, where a deadly fire killed five young refugee children.
Credit David Ford / WFDD

A deadly apartment fire in Greensboro earlier this year highlighted some deep-seated community issues. The kitchen fire in the Summit-Cone apartment complex in May killed five young children, all siblings who were refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

David Ford, a reporter and producer for public radio station WFDD, covered the fire and soon realized there was much more to the story. His new multi-part series “Unsafe Haven” tracks the various issues amplified by the fire, including the lack of affordable housing in Greensboro and struggles faced by the Triad’s refugee community. Host Frank Stasio talks to Ford about his series and how the tragic fire changed things in Greensboro.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Ford on what the fire department concluded about the deadly Summit-Cone apartment complex fire:

The investigation itself took three months of exhaustive research, with interviews and analyzing all the equipment … “Unattended cooking” was given as the cause for the fire — lots of dispute about that from within the complex itself. Some complaints [were] aired about the oven itself potentially being defective. And that was ruled out essentially by the final report — although it did state that nothing can be with absolute certainty in those sorts of examinations.

[Arco Realty has] a long track record of doing retroactive repairs following incidents rather than doing anything proactive ... And that dates back several decades. - David Ford

Ford describes his visit to Congolese refugee Isaac Isaya’s home in the Summit-Cone apartment complex:

In daylight there were rats within the kitchen area. There was a hole in the ceiling of the kitchen — a gaping hole. The bathroom itself was covered in black mold. There was a hand railing hanging by a screw and dangling on the staircase. And there's small children living there. So these are things that [Isaac] had complained about for several weeks with the landlord. And they had not been acted on.

Ford on affordable housing in the Triad:

The idea of a three-bedroom apartment for $800 or less is becoming less and less [possible] — there are just very few options out there. Speaking with Greensboro Housing Coalition Director Brett Byerly on that topic, he points to the dearth of affordable housing. Ultimately that's at the root of the issue ... Apartment rents have been rising throughout this region. And it's a concern for the resettlement agencies tasked with placing these refugees in safe and affordable settings. Finding those for that kind of money for large families is just becoming a real challenge.