Exclusive: City reveals 44 families ‘overcrowded’ prior to Twin Parks fire, $10K donation to all households in closed-door meeting

NYPD check access to a closed meeting limited to victims of the Twin Parks North West fire and city partners on Thursday at Lehman College.
Photo Sarah Belle Lin

In a closed access meeting between city partners and affected tenants of the Twin Parks North West apartments, city agencies revealed that dozens of families were overcrowded or “doubled up” prior to the Jan. 9 fire that killed 17 and displaced roughly 170 households, in audio obtained by the Bronx Times.

Accounting for aid for those households is on a “case-by-case basis,” a city spokesperson told the Bronx Times on Friday, and that Thursday’s meeting was limited to city partners and affected tenants due to the nature of information being disclosed.

“Also, as for our records, there are about 44 families in the building who were doubled up or overcrowded before the fire,” said Jessica Katz, New York City’s chief housing officer, in a recording obtained from the meeting. “And for those families, we’re allowing folks to split (relocation) vouchers and move to two separate apartments if you so choose.”

Each household affected by the tragic Twin Parks North West high-rise fire will receive $10,000 in gift card benefits, city partners told tenants at the meeting held at Lehman College’s Longevier Theater. City partners also announced that hotel and food accommodations for those still displaced by the fire, will extend until May 7. After cards are distributed, city partners said priority will be given to individual case management — which local leaders said overwhelmed city partner BronxWorks after the fire.

For two months, concerns have been raised by affected tenants and community organizations that cash and voucher benefits from city agencies had stalled and some say were disproportionately disbursed among current and relocated tenants of the Fordham Heights high-rise apartments. City officials ensured that this direct donation from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City — two months overdue in the eyes of those still struggling with rehousing — will go to each household with proof of residency.

“Now we’re providing about $10,000 to each household,” said Julie Spitzer, a department director for BronxWorks. “Now, as long as people can establish proof that they lived in the apartment, we are providing non-lease holders, as well as lease holders, with $10,000 in funding.”

Spitzer also laid out how payment would be received. “They’re going to receive $1,000 on a debit card. And then we’re going to load that card with an additional $9,000. Everyone on our roster is going to receive $10,000,” she informed tenants at the meeting.

Some tenants, particularly those in overcrowded apartments, may find themselves unable to meet federal proof of residency clearances required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to be eligible for certain long-term assistance — separate from the city’s financial assistance. Relocation services are available and covered by the city for all displaced by the fire, city partners said.

Since the Jan. 9 fire, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City has raised a total of $4.4 million between monetary and in-kind donations, approximately $937,000 of which has been spent so far on cash assistance, food, burial services and more, the mayor’s office revealed earlier this month — the first public comments on the fund’s total since Jan. 19. Local organizations, displaced tenants and the Bronx Times had been pressing the administration for weeks to release up-to-date numbers.

Families wishing to relocate to La Central in the Melrose section or move back into Twin Parks are being provided financial assistance in the form of moving credits and furniture credits, according to the mayor’s office.

Spitzer also said that Thursday’s meeting was restricted due to concerns over granting anyone not affected Jan. 9 blaze potential access to Bronx relief funds.

“We don’t want a large number of people coming in to get that kind of money. We want to think about your safety,” Spitzer said. “That’s why we make that decision to only allow a certain amount of people at a time and allow you to get home.”

Katz noted that the city has learned many lessons from the Jan. 9 fire.

“We learned many lessons from this tragedy that will help improve our future needs for emergency housing,” Katz said. “We have a long road ahead.”

But the city’s response still isn’t enough for some tenants, as tensions elevated during portions of the hour-and-a-half meeting, with one tenant being directed by city partners to stick to the meeting’s agenda. Additionally, despite their attendance in Thursday’s meeting, representatives from building co-managers Camber Property Group — co-defendants in four lawsuits alleging property mismanagement, including a $3 billion class action lawsuit — were attendance but did not issue comment.

At the time of the Twin Parks fire that killed 17 and displaced more than 100 families, the 52-year-old building had been flagged with 18 open violations, and 174 total violations since new ownership consortium Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC took over in 2020, records filed with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development show.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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