From the ashes of a terrible tragedy, a bit of good news has emerged. It was last February 24th that an electrical fire swept through an old tenement building on James Street, near St. James Place in Chinatown. Three residents were killed and 13 apartments destroyed. Today, just over a year later, the people who lived in 11 of those apartments finally returned. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was there to welcome them back, says it’s proof “you can go home again.”
Silver’s office and Asian Americans for Equality teamed up to represent the tenants’ interests. At a news conference held outside the building today, Silver said, “none of us will ever forget the lives that were lost.” But, he continued, some good has come from the aftermath of the disaster. “We have preserved an important source of affordable housing,” he said.
Following the fire, AAFE made sure the residents formed a tenant association and kept the pressure on the building’s owner to renovate the rent stabilized apartments. If those residents had decided not to return, the 13 units would have entered the free market. Chris Kui, AAFE executive director, thanked Silver and city and state officials who all worked together to make sure the residents “could go home.” He also thanked City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who was an AAFE executive when the fire occurred and helped advocate for the tenants.
During the press event, reporters were led on a tour of one of the apartments. The group trudged up the stairs, crowding into a tiny, newly painted unit, where there was a photo op with residents. Silver thanked the Red Cross for helping to find the tenants temporary housing in the aftermath of the fire.
The owner paid for the renovations.