On Jan. 9, a devastating fire engulfed a high rise working-class apartment building in the Bronx. The Twin Parks fire was the most fatal one New York City had seen in over three decades, killing 17 residents, including eight children. A majority of the victims and residents of the Twin Parks apartment were West African, specifically Gambian immigrants.
It was landlord negligence that made this horrific fire possible. Yet, on Jan. 10, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials held a press conference in front of the Twin Parks building where they blamed the victims.
They lectured apartment residents for not “closing the door” behind them to prevent the spread of the fire when fleeing for their lives. An open apartment and open stairwell door caused smoke from the apartment where a space heater ignited to engulf the building within minutes, causing most of the deaths.
But the tenants weren’t responsible. The Party for Socialism and Liberation attended the press conference and, along with the community, demanded action against those really responsible — landlords who continually disregard tenant safety, placing tenants’ lives at risk.
Landlord negligence cause of fire, not tenants
Lack of adequate heat led tenants to use a space heater that ignited, and two doors in the building malfunctioned and didn’t close, causing smoke to engulf the building in minutes. New York Fire Marshalls confirmed this, yet city officials framed the tragedy as a moral failing on the part of residents. All 17 victims died of extreme smoke inhalation, according to the medical examiner.
“If we take one message from this that [New York City Fire Department] Commissioner has mentioned several times — close the door,” stated Adams. “Close the door. That was embedded in my head as a child … We’re going to double down on that message … We can save lives by closing the doors, not only in this city, but across the entire globe.”
By dwelling on fire safety and tenants’ responsibilities, city officials deflected blame away from Rick Gropper, the landlord of the building who ignored the number of maintenance complaints filed by tenants. Gropper, it should be noted, is on Adams’s housing transition team.
The Housing Preservation and Development website shows a series of complaints from Twin Parks residents including broken radiators, exposed wiring and broken or defective doors.
Officials also failed to mention state law requiring buildings to meet heating standards when temperatures drop below 55 degrees. The Twin Parks building was in violation of these standards, creating the environment for this catastrophic fire. Residents said that inadequate heating throughout the building forced them to use space heaters, or even their ovens, to stay warm.
Adams and other local officials hardly acknowledged that the Twin Parks building was required by a 2018 New York City Local law to have automatically closing doors that should have been installed by July 31, 2021. Local officials even went so far as chastising residents for not keeping up with repairs — to which residents in the crowd responded, “We are tired of putting in tickets!”
Section 8 recipients left in the dark
The tenants who have lost their homes will be temporarily relocated either to hotels — something that organizers fought for — shelters, public housing or the Red Cross. Many tenants in the building were recipients of Section 8 vouchers, and their benefits are not applicable to other developments.
The voucher system has its own host of problems. Navigating Section 8 is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, and landlords often discriminate against Section 8 recipients. Now without their vouchers, the displaced families may not receive benefits or may be forced to re-apply for Section 8, presenting additional challenges to those who lost their identification in the fire or who are undocumented. While Section 8 vouchers provide very real and important benefits to millions of families, they are only a temporary measure to a deepening housing crisis. What is needed is truly affordable and permanent housing for all.
We demand better housing conditions and tenant protections!
City officials plan to move tenants whose apartments were not damaged by the fire back into the building this week. Residents are concerned that the apartment building’s broken windows may expose them to pests, mold, and even colder conditions within their homes. The city has set aside funding for the victims as part of a compensation fund, as well as project-based vouchers to relocate residents if necessary, but no date has been set for distributing these funds.
The PSL-NYC condemns the city administration for making funding available to support landlords instead of the tenants, who continue struggling to pay their rents with low-wage jobs and providing for their families through a pandemic.
That group is demanding:
- Emergency citywide inspection of all buildings with outstanding heat complaints.
- Criminal prosecution of Rick Gropper, the management company of Twin Parks, and all landlords who consistently fail to provide heat.
- Reinstate the moratorium on evictions — to throw people on the street in freezing temperatures and in a pandemic is a death sentence!
To sign a petition raising these demands, click here
Other ways to support the tenants:
2. Red Cross Resource Center & Refuge Station
Resources & Refuge: PS 391- 2190 Folin Street, Bronx NY 10457
More Resources: 2100 Tiebout Avenue, Bronx NY 10457
3. Donation Drop-Off at Monroe College at Ustin Hall, 2375 Jerome Ave, Bronx, NY 10468 #: (718) 933-6700