Struggle remains for residents displaced after rock slide

The Ron Jolyn apartments on Northfield Avenue had to be evacuated Oct. 11, after an engineering firm determined the building to be unsafe following a rock slide that occurred during the Sept. 1 storm.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The rock slide that caused an apartment building on Northfield Avenue to be evacuated and condemned, now awaiting demolition, as a result of flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida is still causing distress for the people who lived in the 44 apartments the building held, as some of them have yet to find permanent housing. The township is paying for hotels for them out of donations from the Mayor’s Sunshine Fund and helping find other rentals in town for these displaced families to move to.

“We’re continuing to work with the families and do the best we can,” Mayor Robert Parisi said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Oct. 25. “The hotels in town are being helpful, and we’re continuing to support them in any way we can. We’re not going to abandon these families.”

According to West Orange Senior Services Program coordinator Laura Van Dyke, who has been working on a daily basis with the displaced residents, somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the affected residents have already found other permanent housing. Others have leads on new housing; some are struggling to find rent that is comparable to what they were paying at the Ron Jolyn Apartments.

“Some landlords have reached out to us,” Van Dyke said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 25. “There are a couple of realtors in town who have waived their fees. Any strategy that we can use to help, we are.”

The storm hit on Sept. 1; two apartments had to be evacuated that day. No one else who lived in the building was informed they had to leave until Oct. 11 at around 11 p.m. According to West Orange public information officer Joseph Fagan, an engineering firm that was hired by the building owners’ insurance adjuster evaluated the site and made the decision that residents needed to vacate the building. The firm informed the township, and West Orange firefighters helped residents leave the building. The lawyer representing the building’s owners, Steven Eisenstein, did not respond to a request for comment by press time on Oct. 26.

“At this point they’re trying to make a determination of what was known and what could be done,” Fagan said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Oct. 26. “We don’t know about any underlying conditions at this point.”

The people who lived in the building qualify for emergency funding under FEMA, and Van Dyke said the township has been helping them apply for the assistance. Even though all of the residents had to vacate their homes under the same circumstances, they will be evaluated by FEMA on a case-by-case basis.

In the meantime, a GoFundMe for them has raised $6,915 for food and other unexpected costs, and the Sunshine Fund is still accepting donations. Restaurants have donated hot meals, and some of the money raised has been used to give the residents ShopRite gift cards.

“The town has been viewing this as a bridge to FEMA funding or finding permanent housing,” Van Dyke said. “Some are looking into senior citizen housing; some might leave town. The goal is to bridge to the next thing, and it’s a process.”