June 11, 2021 By Allie Griffin
A group of Jackson Heights residents who lost their homes in an April fire are demanding the city extend their temporary housing at hotels.
Residents represented by the 89th Street Unidos Association held a rally Thursday to demand the NYC Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) extend their hotel stays through September. Currently the residents must leave the hotel rooms they’ve been provided on June 20.
HPD put the residents of two buildings at 89-07 and 89-11 34th Ave. up in hotels after an eight-alarm fire tore through the buildings on April 6.
Hundreds of families were displaced from the buildings and still don’t have a timeline for when they can return.
Temporary lodging in hotels was initially provided by the Red Cross for families, and in mid-April, the city extended the emergency shelter twice — first through April 20 and then through June 20.
However, the residents said they need more time to find housing in the neighborhood where they’ve established their lives and children’s education.
“As June 20 approaches we’re scared and we’re distressed about our future,” said Angie Espino, 24, who has lived her whole life in an apartment at 89-11 34th Ave. “We’re here because we deserve dignified treatment as we think about how to safely return home.”
Espino said she and her neighbors want to be able to safely return home to the two buildings on the corner of 34th Avenue and 89th Street. Many have lived in the buildings for decades.
The residents are also demanding HPD provide them more housing options and rental vouchers specifically in Jackson Heights.
HPD has offered several families permanent affordable housing options already, but elsewhere in Queens like Far Rockaway and Jamaica.
“In the immediate aftermath of the fire, HPD worked with the American Red Cross to extend hotel stays for an additional two months to offer households more time to find alternative housing in or near their current community,” a spokesperson for the department said. “HPD also provides relocation assistance, and has referred several families to affordable housing options already.”
Families are able to stay in HPD shelters until they find permanent housing or their previous apartments are deemed habitable. However, there are zero HPD shelters in Queens, according to the 89th Street Unidos Association.
HPD has asked affected families who are not already registered with its Emergency Housing Services to do so to receive further support.
Many tenants, however, lost their IDs — required as part of the emergency housing application — in the fire, according to the Tenants Union.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos also attended the rally Thursday and called for the city to provide better assistance to the displaced families.
“It’s been nine weeks since the fire happened,” she said. “It’s been nine weeks that we’ve been asking the city of New York to step up for our neighbors right here in Jackson Heights.”
She said the fire was the “nail in the coffin” for many of the families already struggling due to the pandemic.
“We need a serious plan from the mayor and from city hall that gives these families the peace of mind that they deserve,” Ramos said. “We need the city to step up, extends their stays in hotels, ensure that their lives are not as interrupted as they have been these past nine weeks.”
In addition to Thursday’s rally outside the burned out buildings, the 89th Street Unidos Association has started a petition calling on the department to fulfill their demands. The online petition had garnered about 1,200 signatures by Saturday.