Show me the money: Bronx fire victims, community groups asking ‘what’s in the Mayor’s Fund?’

NYC Mayor Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson saw a myriad of crises in their year in their respective roles.
Photo courtesy Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

For two months, displaced tenants of the Twin Parks North West apartment fire that killed 17, along with those assisting in local relief efforts, have been pleading for transparency on the current donation totals to, and distribution plans for, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City that was supposed to aid those impacted.

The last amount raised through the Mayor’s Fund and made public by Mayor Eric Adams was $2.5 million back on Jan. 19. But with donations from celebrities’ like Bronxite rap superstar Cardi B and others who partnered with the fund, the figure is believed to be higher.

When the fund was first announced the day following the Jan. 9 fire, Adams said 100% of the proceeds would go to those impacted. To date, however, affected Twin Parks tenants of record have only received $2,250 from the fund, a figure that was announced on Jan. 14 by Adams, and since confirmed by the Bronx Times.

“How much is in the Mayor’s Fund? It’s the million-dollar question,” said Sheikh Moussa, the leader of the Islamic Cultural Center and one of the key community leaders that’s been on the ground working with families since the fire.

Despite numerous attempts by the Bronx Times — through FOIL requests and inquiries into how much was donated to and distributed from the Mayor’s Fund — the Adams administration has not provided any information. The mayor’s office did not provide comment before publication on Tuesday morning.

And while local community groups told the Times that residents did receive that one-time payment two months ago, it hasn’t been enough, they say, to secure long-term housing and consistent dietary accommodations for struggling tenants — both of which were promised by Adams and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s administration.

“Families are upset wondering where the Mayor’s Fund money is,” said Ariadna Phillips, South Bronx Mutual Aid founder and organizer. “Many are trying to move or replace damaged items and only one distribution of $2250 happened to the tenant of record per unit. We are meeting with other community groups (on March 2) to make a meal plan, because this shouldn’t be happening.”

As the smoke settled from the towering Twin Parks North West high-rise days after the worst NYC fire in more than 30 years, Adams proclaimed that 100% of benefits to the Mayor’s Fund — under the Bronx Fire Relief Fund which received thousands of grassroots donations, as well as support from business and philanthropic community partners — would go to those affected by the January blaze that was caused by a malfunctioning space heater and faulty emergency doors, and exacerbated by a laundry list of unmet heat and water complaints from tenants.

As a result, property owners Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, a consortium that includes Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group, are defendants in four lawsuits, including a $3 billion class action lawsuit.

‘This should’ve been prevented’: Displaced residents experience sorrow, anger in Bronx fire aftermath

According to the Adams administration, The Mayor’s Fund contributed $1,000 to each household impacted, Bank of America matched that donation plus an additional $50 to cover any ATM fees, and The Met Council donated $200 food cards, for a total of $265,500.

“The last figure I heard was $2.5 million,” said Dr. Bola Omotosho, chairman of Community Board 5, which encompasses the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx, the neighborhood where the fire took place. “It’s a good question because numerous times we’ve tried to cycle back (to the Mayor’s office) to find how much is there because tenants and people on the ground want answers.”

For two months, community leaders and local fundraisers have had to pick up the slack in keeping displaced tenants fed and housed, as the city’s initial recovery efforts began to stall out due to expiring contracts and shifting responsibilities with Mayor’s Fund partners. Additionally, tenants, who were supposed to be housed in “local” hotels have been scattered into hotels in Harlem and other areas of Manhattan.

Some tenants who have emergency housing vouchers told the Times they’re being given one location for permanent housing, others have not. Some say they’ve been forced to downsize and haven’t received much relief from the city since January.

“How is it possible that there is all of this money for victims, but they do not have proper support to re-stabilize them?” said Fatima Kané, a local organizer.

Contracts for eating and hotels, local leaders tell the Times, are on a “month-by-month basis,” as the World Central Kitchen and The Hoodspitality Group took over feeding tenants; the latter taking over until the Mayor’s Fund and new food servicing partner NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association were ready to fulfill their new three meal-a-day contract which runs until April.

The Gambian Youth Organization, which raised $1 million to go directly back to affected tenants, was tasked with providing hungry residents with food last week.

Gibson, the borough president, said that her administration is continuing to ensure that tenants’ needs are being met, and that hotel accommodations have been extended until April 7, for additional time for families to transition to permanent housing.

-Sarah Belle Lin contributed to this report

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