The Bronx apartment fire that killed at least 17 people on Sunday also left more than 100 families homeless, in some cases without a specific timeline for a return to their apartments.
The Bronx apartment building fire that killed at least 17 people on Sunday also left more than 100 families homeless, in some cases without a specific timeline for a return to their apartments. Displaced tenants, many of whom are immigrants from West Africa, could face a difficult path to housing without intensive government intervention, lawyers and attorneys say.
It can take months, or even years, for families affected by the fire to return to their damaged homes. And finding another affordable unit elsewhere is no easy task in New York City’s tight low-income housing market.
“It could take years with the current inventory of housing that we have in the city,” said Rue Parkin, executive director of the disaster relief organization helpNYC. For undocumented immigrant residents, it can be even more difficult, Parkin added.
In this case, however, housing advocates say the city and state have significant leverage to pressure landlords to move tenants into new housing until their apartments are restored. . A spokesperson for the owners of the building told City Limits they will match tenants who cannot return to their apartments with new units elsewhere.
The building, known as Twin Parks North West, is a state-supervised Mitchell Lama site owned by a network of investors including LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group. Businesses have strong political ties: Camber CEO Rick Gropper was recently part of Mayor Eric Adams’ transition team.
The owner set, organized as the Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, purchased the skyscraper in 2020 and entered into an agreement with the New York State Housing Finance Agency of the Division of State Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR) to provide affordable housing. in exchange for large tax credits for low-income people and low-cost financing. In recent years, Camber and Gropper have purchased several Section 8 properties and now control a portfolio of more than 120 sites, mostly in the Bronx and Brooklyn, according to construction records.
Since their business depends on grants and government agreements, developers have an added incentive to do good to displaced tenants, said Matthew Tropp, manager of Legal Aid’s housing practice in the Bronx.
“The state is involved with the developer on a lot of different projects and part of that oversight is making sure people get safe and affordable housing,” Tropp said. “If they don’t, it may impact future deals.”
Camber and his associates’ response to their 181st Street East building fire could impact tenants during disasters on the road, Housing Justice for All organizer Cea Weaver said. . In addition to its private affordable housing sites, Camber has taken over the private management of some NYCHA complexes.
“Getting some clarification on how they should behave right now sets a precedent for future cases,” Weaver said.
Landlords, especially landlords without the same public agreements, can flout accountability and leave tenants stranded. The aftermath of a devastating fire in Jackson Heights in April 2021 is just one example.
Nine months after their apartments burned down, more than 200 families are still banned from the building. Some have found new apartments, while others continue to stay in city-funded hotels and emergency shelters.
Andrew Sokolof Diaz, a former Jackson Heights apartment building resident who helped organize his neighbors, said city and state officials should hold the owner of Twin Parks accountable and work with each family to create a specific long-term housing plan close to their community.
“I hope they will be helped as they deserve,” said Sokolof Diaz. “It’s their enclave and they need to be as close to home as possible. The displacement effect is traumatic.
The Twin Parks Resort is a declining commodity in New York City: low-cost housing.
Almost all of the apartments at 333 East 181st St. are for households earning less than 60% of the region’s median income (no more than $ 64,440 for a family of three), according to a 2013 purchase agreement with the DHCR.
More than 75 of the 120 apartments are tied to project-based Section 8 grants, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said in a press briefing Monday. This means that the federal government covers most of the rent for tenants, who pay no more than 30 percent of their income for the rest. But unlike “tenant-based” Section 8 vouchers, residents cannot necessarily transport these grants to a new apartment.
Benjamin, however, said all tenants receiving Section 8 grants whose units are uninhabitable will be able to shift their grants to other apartments.
“We will work with the developers and those on the ground to make sure everyone has suitable accommodation as soon as possible if they cannot return to the building,” he added.
Officials from the DHCR and the development corporation say they are working to issue housing vouchers for tenants for residents who cannot return to their homes. These grants will allow them to transfer their Section 8 to other locations at the same level of rental assistance.
Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC spokesperson Kelly Magee said real estate owners will also move tenants to units in other buildings they own.
“Anyone who needs longer-term accommodation due to the fire will be accommodated,” Magee said.
Some tenants whose units were not damaged may return to their homes later this week, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Commissioner Christina Farrell said on Monday.
Others face much more difficult routes to housing. Survivors remain in hospitals, some in critical condition, while others have moved in with families and friends, Farrell said. Residents can request additional services at an OEM staging area located at Monroe College.
The Red Cross has provided hotel rooms to 21 households, consisting of 74 people, for a period of up to two weeks, according to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The owner hosted 41 other households, comprising 148 people, in additional hotels, HPD said. So far, the survivors had all been placed at sites in the Bronx, Farrell said monday.
HPD also operates an emergency shelter system for New Yorkers displaced by disasters such as the deadly fire or flooding related to Hurricane Ida last year. However, these facilities are often located far from the living quarters of the occupants and the conditions are criticized.
Firefighters attribute Sunday’s blaze to a faulty radiator that worked in one of the apartments on the third floor of the building. Tenants fled the unit when the fire broke out, but their front door did not close behind them, Mayor Eric Adams said on Monday. The open door fanned the flames and sent smoke swirling throughout the skyscraper. The blaze was the city’s deadliest in more than 30 years.
“It is an unspeakable tragedy,” Adams said Monday, adding that President Joe Biden had offered to provide federal support. “The Bronx and New York City are representative of cultures and ethnicities around the world. “
City officials are investigating why the door did not close despite a 2018 law requiring hallways and apartment doors to close automatically to prevent fires. HPD cited the building’s previous owner, Rubin Schron, for the faulty doors on several occasions, The New York Post reported.
An online fundraiser created by the Gambian youth non-profit organization raised more than $ 700,000 for displaced families on Tuesday at 10 a.m., a striking total at first glance, but a sum that stands at less than $ 6,000 per household in the 120 unit complex.
Governor Kathy Hochul also pledged on Sunday to create a victims’ compensation fund from the state budget.
“We will not abandon you. We’re here for you, ”Hochul said. “There will be money to help them find new accommodation, for burial costs, for whatever they need.”
Since the fire, New Yorkers have mobilized to support the victims and their families. Collaboration between city, state and federal leaders also fostered a sense of unity.
But while these types of one-off funding arrangements can be crucial for individual families, they don’t do much to address a larger problem facing New York City, said Hilary Botein, Associate Dean at Marxe. School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.
“We don’t have enough affordable housing and that won’t solve the structural problem,” Botein said.