housingMilitant JournalismNew York City

One month after deadly Bronx fire tenants honor the victims, rally for their rights

On Feb. 9, tenants and supporters gathered in the Bronx, New York, for a rally to honor the victims of last month’s tragic Twin Parks fire. The rally marked the one-month anniversary of the apartment fire which killed 17 people, including eight children. The fire was started by a faulty space heater, which tenants were forced to rely on because the landlord did not properly heat the building. Poor living conditions also caused a fire in another Bronx building on Grand Avenue just a few days earlier on Feb. 5, in which nine tenants were injured.

Organizers pressed three demands: Emergency citywide inspection of all buildings with outstanding heat complaints, criminal prosecution of Twin Parks landlord Rick Gropper and all landlords who consistently fail to provide heat, and reinstating the moratorium on all evictions.

The event was coordinated by tenants, community organizers, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Bridging Africans and Black Americans.

‘We have to work together. We have to put a stop to this!’

At an intersection near the Twin Parks building tenants shared their stories of negligent landlords. Brianna McClure, a tenant from Harlem, complained of lack of heat and proper plumbing in her building complex, forcing residents to use communal toilets on the ground floor.

“I’m here to talk to my community members,” said McClure. “I’m here to talk to my tenant organizers, because we have to work together. We have to put a stop to this!”

Tenants also expressed wariness of city officials, citing their lack of support.

“One month since the fire, there isn’t a single authority here. Not the Governor, not the Bronx Borough President, not Mayor [Eric] Adams. … They only call for their cameras and then leave,” said 40-year-old Twin Parks resident Milagros Colón. 

According to Colón, many residents ignored the fire alarm when the fire broke out, as the building’s alarm system would frequently sound off for no reason. Residents had complained of the faulty alarm system for over a year and it was never fixed.

Once the rally concluded, protestors marched to the Twin Parks residential building, where they held a vigil for those who died in the fire.

Landlord negligence the cause of Twin Parks fire

Rick Gropper, the owner of Twin Parks, has yet to face consequences for the deaths of the 17 Twin Parks residents. Shortly after the fire New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials held a press conference at the site and blamed tenants. Adams chastised residents for not “closing the door” as they fled from the building, allowing the fire to spread. What Adams ignored was that Twin Parks was in violation of a 2018 New York City law, which requires apartment doors to self-close in order to stop fires from spreading.

Landlords like Gropper consistently ignore urgent complaints about heating and other building essentials, putting their tenants at serious risk. Gropper owns a staggering 11,801 rental units. His tenants filed 11,463 complaints with the city in the last three years, with the most common complaint being improper heat.

Activists blamed the fire on poor living conditions caused by landlord negligence.

“We all know that this fire and the smoke that killed them could have been prevented,” said Abdoulaye Cisse, a community organizer with Bridging Africans and Black Americans. 

Organizers of the rally made clear they were building a movement to fight back against negligent landlords such as Gropper and the city officials who defend them.

“We’re going to organize with the tenants,” stated Karla Reyes of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “We’re going to be here to amplify the voices of the people who are surviving and who are fighting back to make sure they have adequate living conditions, adequate heat, and that we hold these landlords accountable — and also these politicians that are protecting these landlords.”

Photo above and featured photo: Adrian Childress

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