On Wednesday, a joint City Council committee hearing held in response to the Twin Parks North West fire saw three city agencies absent from the near six-hour City Hall session.
The day after the hearing, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams sent a critical letter to Mayor Eric Adams.
She called the lack of appearance by several city agencies — including the Department of Buildings — “troubling” and said by not appearing at Wednesday’s hearing, this “subverts the City Council’s oversight role, prevents public evaluation of legislation, and denies the public transparency.”
“Unfortunately, only two of the five required city agencies – Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Fire Department (FDNY) attended the hearing,” Adrienne Adams, a Democrat from Queens, wrote to the mayor. “This leads me to presume that your administration does not treat this important topic with the full seriousness deserved.”
The Jan. 9 Twin Parks fire in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx killed 17, including eight children, as a result of a space heater malfunctioning, according to fire officials. The tragedy marked the worst fire in NYC in more than 30 years.
“Just last week, we held a town hall with families to answer more questions in a venue dedicated to just that,” Mayor Adams told the Bronx Times in a statement. “The speaker is a great partner, and I look forward to continuing too work with her and other members of the City Council to prevent any further loss of life in our city.”
The goal of Wednesday’s hearing, according to Councilmember Oswald Feliz, whose district includes the Twin Parks building, was to figure out how to prevent deadly fires from repeating. The hearing, a joint session of three City Council committees, addressed existing laws, inspection protocols and testimony on several fire safety bills.
The proposed package of legislation that sits in committee includes bills to tighten definitions of “self-closing door”; set minimum temperatures buildings would be required to maintain; require all electric space heaters for sale in New York City to be equipped with a thermostat and an automatic shutoff feature; and additional fire safety education and outreach.
“We hope to examine the enforcement of existing laws to ensure city agencies have robust inspection protocols,” said Feliz at the hearing. “We’re also hoping to hear from the administration about the city’s response to the Twin Parks fire.”
Feliz, a Fordham Democrat, chairs the Special Committee on Twin Parks Citywide Taskforce on Fire Prevention.
Committee members were expecting to hear testimony from several critical city agencies — the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and Department of Buildings did not attend the meeting, however.
According to Adrienne Adams, the Department of Buildings (DOB) had specifically been requested to attend by City Council staff more than a week before the hearing. There was follow-up outreach, including a call a little under a week before, as well as a final reminder the day before the hearing.
“However, your administration should not have needed either request or invitation, since the necessary presence of the agencies was obvious, even to your other agencies,” Adrienne Adams wrote in the letter.
In response to the letter, the mayor’s office told the Bronx Times that, “We will make available any other commissioner to answer additional questions.”
Councilmember Joann Ariola, who chairs the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, expressed her concerns over the missing city agencies, especially the DOB. She told the Bronx Times the agency “needs to do a better job of inspecting.”
“I was not happy that I was given vague answers” from Housing Preservation & Development and the FDNY, Ariola, a Queens Republican, told the Bronx Times about her line of questioning at the hearing.
Following the hearing, Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, who chairs the Council Committee on Housing and Building, said she would introduce legislation at the next meeting that could increase fines for repeat building inspections to better hold landlords accountable. She also urged increased data sharing between HPD, FDNY and the DOB be increased and more collaboration on building inspections.
“I was disappointed not to have participation from critical agencies at Wednesday’s hearing,” said Sanchez, a Fordham Progressive, in a statement. “It is critical for all relevant New York City agencies to attend and share response(s) to Council hearings. The public, particularly those affected by the Twin Parks fire, deserve public responses to their concerns.”
-with additional reporting by Jason Cohen and Aliya Schneider
Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes