The Grand Street fire has upended the lives of 200 Grand Street residents in countless ways. The people who lived in 283 and 285 Grand were dealt the worst blow, of course. Their homes – declared to be structurally unstable – are being demolished. But the tenants of 289 Grand (aka 91 Eldridge) have not had an easy time of it either. This weekend, however, they’re finally able to go back inside their apartments – if only for a few moments.
Yesterday afternoon the residents gathered alongside the barricade blocking the path to their building. One by one, they were escorted into their apartments to retrieve small items and any important documents that could be salvaged.
While 289 Grand suffered heavy water damage, as well as some fire damage on its upper floors, residents have hoped they would be able to eventually move back in. Now there are suspicions that the landlord – Wong’s Grand Street Realty – wants to tear down the building. There were some tense moments Saturday, as the landlord’s daughter-in-law faced off with residents and the influential tenant rights organization, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE).
Dinine Signorelle-Wong (who also lived in the building) said she had been working directly with the tenants to gain access to their apartments. She complained that AAFE was interfering. Signorelle-Wong added that the NYPD had declined to provide security escorts for the weekend, forcing her to hire private security guards. But Chris Kui, the organization’s executive director, said they had been asked by city agencies to help coordinate the schedule for the apartment walk-throughs. He indicated Signorelle-Wong was making the ordeal more upsetting than it already was for the tenants.
We were able to talk with a couple of tenants after they visited their apartments. Nancy Chu went into the 6th floor unit where her 93 year old mother (Chui Hoi Wong) lived for nearly 40 years. She was able to retrieve a few items, including some treasured family photos. Chu said the ceiling was caved in, and the apartment was in very bad shape.
Steven Vendola lived on the third floor for 45 years. Like the other tenants, he was only able to stay for 20 minutes. He came out holding a large statue over his shoulder, a prized possession. Vendola said he was determined to return for more of his belongings.
There were apparently some rent controlled tenants in the building, but others were paying market rate rents. Signorelle-Wong said two apartments are so badly damaged residents could not walk inside. They would have to tell the security guards which items they wished to pull from the rubble.
Read our 4/27 followup to this story here.