Bea Martin was swing dancing in a local park.

David Ericson was sleeping.

Zach Tenenbaum was buying a pack of cigarettes at 7-Eleven.

Katie Haskins was driving home.

Chris McClure was cooking stir fry.

Dale Barnard and Jamie Bailey were watching TV.


The tenants of 21 Grant St. were having a normal Monday summer evening when they suddenly became homeless. It was Aug. 8. A blaze started on the stovetop in Apt. 1.

The fire trucks came. Firefighters got the flames out in 45 minutes. The building didn’t look much different from the outside except for the scorched kitchen window.

But a sign went up on the front door that said, “POSTED AGAINST OCCUPANCY.”

And nine adults were thrust abruptly into the heart of southern Maine’s housing crisis, with its too-few vacancies and spiking rents.

The building is owned by White Heat Realty LLC and run by Bricklight Realty Management. The landlord put some of the tenants up for a night or two in a hotel, but told them they could not stay in their apartments. They got their security deposits and August rent back within a few days of the fire.

The Red Cross also offered immediate financial assistance – a few hundred dollars for hotel rooms or toiletries or clean clothes, whatever was needed.


But soon the residents found themselves living the kind of housing horror stories they’d heard about: Bumping from hotel rooms to friends’ spare bedrooms, crashing on couches, digging deep into their diminishing savings.

MaineHousing has reported that the median rent for a two-bedroom in Portland in 2020 was $1,880 including utilities, an amount unaffordable to more than 70 percent of households. The tenants on Grant Street are regular people, and they expect to spend weeks to months looking for places that fit their budgets.

“The morning after the fire, I woke up and was like, I am homeless,” Bea Martin said. “I have nowhere to live, and I have to start looking again right now. That is, in general, one of my biggest fears, and it’s actually happening.”

APT. 3

David Ericson, 51, had lived on the second floor for seven years. He drives the employee shuttle for Maine Medical Center from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. When the blaze began in the unit below that evening, he was taking a nap.

He woke up to screams of “Fire!” and smoke pouring into his apartment. Disoriented, he struggled to get his panicked cat out from under his bed and into her carrier. By the time he rushed down the building’s back stairs, he could barely see or breathe.


“I’m unflappable, but that was enough,” Ericson said. “I was flapped.”

His one-bedroom was small but cost just $900 a month, a bargain by current Portland standards.

Standing outside that night, he and his neighbors speculated about how many weeks the repairs would take. One? Two? An onlooker overheard and warned them to think in months instead.

“That was when we realized: We have nowhere to go,” Ericson said. “We have nowhere to stay tonight and any other night.”

Ericson has been staying in hotels for more than a week now, and August rates are burning through his savings. He recently inherited money from a family member, and he wanted to use it on a piece of land and a tiny house in northern Maine. But the prices he sees on Zillow are out of reach, and now that nest egg is shrinking.

“It’s eating me up inside that this money is going toward this,” he said. “It’s ruining any plans I had for it. To think that this whole thing is going to cost me $5,000 before I even move.”


He wants to salvage what he can from his apartment, but he doesn’t have anywhere to store his belongings. He has taken time off work to search for a new place and has been sending messages to every listing he can find under $1,300 a month, which is the most he calculates he can afford. He would like to stay in Parkside and live by himself, but he knows neither option may be possible.

“If I could just get a place in the next week or so, I’ll be fine,” Ericson said. “If I can’t, I’ll be in trouble.”

The fire began in Zach Tenenbaum’s first-floor kitchen. Tenenbaum said he had a small grease fire a couple of months ago and the knobs on his stove were sensitive to every unintended bump. He thinks his dog may have activated the burner when jumping on the counter. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

APT. 1

Zach Tenenbaum said he stepped out for just 10 minutes. When his neighbor called about the fire, he raced the short blocks home, thinking only of Brutus. Tenenbaum had to rescue the one-year-old American bulldog through his bedroom window.

The fire started in his kitchen. Tenenbaum said he had a small grease fire a couple of months ago and the knobs on his stove were sensitive to every unintended bump. Brutus jumps on the kitchen counter sometimes, and his theory is that the dog’s movements turned the burner on. (The Portland Fire Department has said the fire was accidental but has not yet completed a final report. Bricklight did not respond to phone calls and emails about what happened.)

Tenenbaum’s kitchen was blackened from floor to ceiling. He lost everything he owned, and he didn’t have renters insurance. “I’m going to do that from now on,” he said.


Tenenbaum, 33, is a union ironworker. After the fire, he had a job in Clinton that came with a hotel room for the week. But he had to check out Friday morning and planned to spend the weekend with a friend in Old Orchard Beach. He’s not sure what comes next.

“I need to figure out something as soon as possible,” he said. “I don’t want to be that guy sleeping on the couch.”

He was paying $1,350 a month for his one-bedroom and had lived there for about a year. It took him three or four months to find that apartment. Now, he has a few leads but is struggling to find a place that will accept Brutus. And Brutus is staying with a family friend, which is difficult.

Tenenbaum is considering moving to Boston, where his pay would be higher.

“It’s a little higher cost of living, but it’s not really that much higher than Portland, to be honest with you,” he said.

Tenenbaum started a GoFundMe to help replace his things and pay for his next place.


APT. 6

Chris McClure knew it wasn’t his stir fry burning, so he turned off his own stove and ran down the stairs. When the firefighters got on the roof with a chainsaw, he understood it was bad. He texted his partner.

On Monday nights, Bea Martin goes swing dancing in Post Office Park. The jazz ensemble was winding down when she got the text from Chris. A friend walked her home and they found fire trucks flashing.

McClure, 34, had lived in the building for eight years. Martin, 32, moved in more than three years ago. They decorated with furniture he made and dozens of plants she tended.

Suncatchers cast rainbows from their windows.

“We had really settled into it,” she said. “I was so proud of how it was looking.”


Their third-floor unit was the farthest from the source of the fire, two floors down on the opposite side. Nearly all their belongings were undamaged. Still, they felt overwhelmed as they gathered their essentials by headlamp. She forgot socks and underwear but took her hula hoop. He packed his music equipment and clothes for his barista shift at Bard Coffee the next morning.

A friend offered a spare bedroom. Dance friends showed up with truck beds and trunks to move their stuff temporarily to Martin’s family’s house. A co-worker sent McClure a photo of a “For Rent” sign spotted in Portland, and he called only to find that the rent was $3,995 a month.

They were paying $1,300 on Grant Street, which included a parking spot, and they hope to go up by only $100 to $200 a month. They’re both in the midst of career changes that dictate their budget. McClure is working through an online boot camp to become a software engineer. Martin is starting her final year at Southern Maine Community College, where she studies communications and new media with a focus on web design. They share a car and want to find a place that is still walking or biking distance to his job at Bard.

“Logically, I think we can do it,” McClure said. “Emotionally, it’s a hard thing to face. Being aware that it’s going to be a lot of rejection, constantly looking, looking at places and falling in love and then having them already swept up by the time we can get an application in.”

“I think this is the first place that just really felt like home to me,” Martin said of their Grant Street apartment. “Losing that and feeling like we’re going to have to keep clawing our way out of this, it’s so terrifying. I just worry that we won’t find anything.”

The damaged apartment building at 21 Grant St. in Portland. The displaced tenants expect to spend months searching for a new place to live. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

APT. 4


For Dale Barnard and Jamie Bailey, the fire could not have come at a worse time.

Barnard, 34, is a chef but had recently been injured at work, so he was unemployed. Bailey, 33, is a biology student at the University of Southern Maine. They had recently paid their rent – $1,560 for their second-floor one-bedroom – and bought groceries.

“We had like $20 in our bank account,” Barnard said. “We don’t have $300 to $700 to pay for a peak hotel right now.”

They say someone from the property management company at first told them they would be on their own in finding a place to sleep, but eventually agreed to pay for a hotel room. They also received money from the Red Cross, which they hope to donate back someday. A friend in South Gardiner offered up a temporary room.

Bailey starts school again at the end of the month, and they do not expect to find an apartment before then, so their first priority is buying a car so she can commute. Barnard has received job offers, he said, but he can’t accept one until he knows where he’ll be living. They started a GoFundMe and have raised more than $2,600 so far.

“We never thought we’d have to do that,” she said. “It’s brought us to tears multiple times. It’s definitely helped us feel a little less stressed.”


They had lived in the one-bedroom unit on Grant Street for a year and a half, and it had taken them two months to find it. This time, they have decided to broaden their search. They think they would have to pay $500 to $700 more a month to get a place comparable to what they just lost in Portland.

“There was no way in hell we were going to be able to find an available place in Portland in the price range we had been paying for rent,” Barnard said.

For now, they are taking it day by day. They saved their bed but could not clean the smoky smell out of the couch. They are going over their renters insurance policy to see what costs might be reimbursed. They will celebrate Barnard’s birthday in a few weeks, although even the simple night they planned won’t be the same.

“We were going to order some takeout and eat it in the apartment,” he said.

APT. 2

Katie Haskins has two dogs, four newborn puppies, a chinchilla and a guinea pig. Luckily, she had asked a friend to look after the puppies while she was in Brunswick on the day of the fire. Otherwise they might have been alone in the smoke. She was driving home when her friend called her, but the seriousness didn’t hit her until she saw the scene on the street.


Haskins, 38, had lived there for about a year. She moved to southern Maine to enter sober living, and has been in recovery for three years. When she wanted to get her own place, her apartment search was hampered by criminal convictions related to her past drug use, but she finally found this two-bedroom on Grant Street.

“A lot of people don’t want to give second chances,” she said. “I was a good tenant. My rent was always paid and never had any issues.”

Her rent was $1,565 at first, but she was in the process of signing a new lease at $1,800.

She hopes to downsize now and get her rent back under $1,600. She has a car and is willing to look outside of Portland, but she expects finding a new place to take five to six months.

She also got assistance from the Red Cross, and now she is sleeping on a friend’s couch – but his lease is up in October.

“God only knows how long it’s going to take for me to find another place to live, not because of the finances but because people don’t like to have people with a record rent from them,” she said. “It’s very frustrating after you’ve worked hard to change your life.”

Right now, she is focused on cleaning out the apartment and trying to get the smell out of her clothes. She has her own business selling sneakers, and the inventory she stored in her apartment seems unaffected by the fire. But she was considering opening a storefront, a dream that will be delayed.

“I’m the type of person that always had a plan A, B, C and D,” Haskins said. “For once in my life, I don’t know what to prioritize or what is next. These things can happen to anybody at any moment.”

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