Apartment fire leaves international students homeless

A University of Calgary international student and his nine-months-pregnant wife are struggling to get their lives back on track after an apartment fire last month left them and approximately 50 other international students homeless.

Engineering master’s student Herish Danbey lost everything in a fire in the Suncourt Place apartments the evening of Fri., Feb. 24. Like most of the international students in the apartment building, located between Crowchild Trail and University Drive, Danbey was uninsured and left scrambling for a place to live in a tight housing market.

After spending two weeks sleeping in his lab with his wife, the Suncourt Place landlord suggested Danbey find a new place to live, rather than returning to Suncourt, since his wife is pregnant and the building has an adults-only policy.

“They are not allowing me inside because I [will] have a baby and because it’s a bachelor suite,” said Danbey. “It’s not allowing people with kids.”

Suncourt Place property manager Winston Leong said the combination of small 425-square-foot apartments and a large number of students studying in the building resulted in the adults-only policy.

“Unless they lie on their application we do not allow children,” said Leong. “We don’t immediately evict them. We ask them to seek alternate accommodation.”

Leong added that Danbey made the choice to give his notice and is not being evicted. Had he made his case, Suncourt likely would have allowed him to stay.

“We said this would be an appropriate time to seek alternate accommodations,” said Leong.

The tenants of the 108 units have the option of moving back in when the apartments are fixed, said Leong, noting 36 tenants moved back Sat., Mar. 10. Suites closer to the north side of the ground floor where the fire started will have to be gutted and won’t be ready for three months, he said.

Madelyn Bradley, an international student advisor at the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad, said the campus community has stepped up to find temporary accommodation for the eight students who came to the international centre for aid after the fire. The Red Cross also provided emergency shelter and limited support.

Maryan Mehri, also an electrical engineering master’s student, found a house to rent with three friends after spending a week in the very cramped house of a friend. Mehri, like many of the students in the building, was not insured.

“There were 15 people living in a house,” said Mehri. “Some people are still living there now and waiting to move back [into Suncourt].”

Meanwhile, Danbey and his wife have moved out of his engineering lab and in with a U of C social work professor, for now at least. Due to the stress of the ordeal, he will likely have to extend his studies for a year and said he hopes he will be approved for more funding.

“It’s completely affecting my studies,” said Danbey.

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