RICHMOND, Va. -- It was a late October afternoon when dozens of people living in a downtown Richmond apartment were given just hours to pack their bags and vacate their homes after their building failed an inspection. More than a month later, the Fire Marshal and Acting Commissioner of Buildings gave tenants the all-clear to return Wednesday, one day before Thanksgiving.
"I thought there would be a positive outcome, and God bless there was," said Grace Place resident, Jennifer Orishak.
Orishak was glowing as she met CBS 6 for a final interview at the Knights Inn where she and some of the other residents had been housed by the property manager while repairs were made to the building.
"It’s a relief. Because now we can get back on to life as normal," Orishak said.
Orishak had been a voice for the voiceless throughout the painful wait, speaking with CBS 6 on multiple occasions about the situation she and other residents had been placed in.
"I just feel the story needs to be told, and I appreciate the opportunity to tell it," Orishak said. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else again."
Orishak said she received the happy news Wednesday afternoon.
"Happy Thanksgiving from Grace Place!" the text from property management read in part. "The necessary improvements are completed, and you may return any time after 2 p.m. As you know, we are not charging rent for November. Any payments received will be credited towards next month. So, take that extra money and enjoy the holidays!"
Orishak said the text came in too late for her to make arrangements Wednesday but she planned to get a ride Thursday to go back home.
"The inconvenience is neither here nor there because we’re going back home," said Orishak with a smile.
It was a turn of events from the text she and other residents received one day prior telling them their stay at the Knights Inn had been extended through Monday due to 'unforeseen circumstances.'
Orishak believed the continued news coverage played a role in the progress.
"You keeping on top of the story is what made the difference," said Orishak. "Thank you Channel 6!"
A spokesperson with the Richmond Fire Department said a contractor worked through the night to repair the elevators. It was the last of five tasks required by the city before the building could reopen.
Before that, property management had successfully completed the required tasks of repairing fire suppression systems and the fire alarm panel, as well as sanitizing the building and cleaning out the trash chute.
A certified engineer had also inspected the building and determined there was no major structural damage to the building and that repairs needed were not associated with any life safety concerns.
On Wednesday evening, some of the residents could be seen trickling in and out of the building, the no trespassing sign no longer hanging by the front door.
After more than a month of silence, CBS 6 heard from Property Manager Stanley Thompson who took over in August.
He spoke with CBS 6 on the phone, saying that residents were and had always been his first priority. He added that property management would continue working with city officials on a timeline for additional repairs to the building to ensure that this didn't happen again. He said he wanted to see the building thrive and look forward to what the future held at the Grace Place Apartments.
Orishak too was hopeful things would be better.
"I have a feeling with the new management that it will be," said Orishak. "Somebody came around and did the right thing. That’s all I ever wanted, that’s all I ever wanted was them to try to fix the thing so we could move on."
Thompson said the work to the nearly 100-year-old building was ongoing. He said residents living on the 11th floor would be moved to new units due to flood damage.
In the meantime, property management planned to hand out Walmart gift cards to residents for the holiday.
The city had also arranged for The Giving Heart to deliver Thanksgiving meals to tenants as they moved back home Thursday.
"Better late than never, and it’ll be a happy Thanksgiving no matter what," Orishak said.