An elderly man who was inside one of the apartment buildings that went up in flames on Grand Street last night has not been accounted for. City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who has spent most of the day on the scene, explained the situation to reporters a short time ago.
During the fire, Sing Ho (87 years old) called relatives to say he was trapped in his apartment on the top floor of 285 Grand. They hoped he had somehow made it out. But when he did not turn up, two of Ho’s sisters showed up at Chin’s office, seeking help. Her staff worked the phones, calling hospitals and social service agencies — to no avail.
Firefighters have not been able to enter either 283 or 285 Grand because they’re too unstable. Just before dark, they were spraying water through the windows on the 6th floor and taking photos of the building interiors. At 9pm, city officials will be meeting to make the final decision about demolishing both structures. It’s very likely they’ll begin to take the buildings down tomorrow.
Meanwhile, affordable housing advocates are pressing city officials to thoroughly inspect the apartments before demolition begins. If that doesn’t happen, they fear, it will be far more difficult to protect the rights of the 90 + tenants who have been displaced.
While the Fire Department has not determined a cause of the fire, the tenant advocates are more than a little suspicious about the circumstances leading up to last night’s fire. In the last couple of years, the owner put the buildings on the market for $10-12 million. Then, residents began complaining that the super stopped making repairs.
In the past, landlords in Chinatown have been accused of neglecting their rent stabilized buildings as a way of forcing tenants to move out — so that the apartments can be converted to more expensive market-rate units. Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, says this is why it’s important to determine whether the fire was arson before demolition commences — and the evidence of possible negligence (or worse) is lost.
Tonight, Chin, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Daniel Squadron released a joint statement. They said the fire “demonstrated yet again the problematic state of housing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.”
Chin is particularly well equipped to deal with the difficult issues these residents are confronting. As a founder of Asian Americans for Equality, she has spent decades fighting for tenant rights. Today, she was working alongside her former AAFE colleagues to help the fire victims.
Displaced residents or small businesses impacted by the fire can call AAFE at 212-964-2288. The Hamilton Madison House is also available to provide assistance. Call 212-571-2823 and ask for Solan Liang.