‘Where will I be staying?’: Boulevard Houses residents look for answers after New Year’s Eve fire

boulevard houses
After a four-alarm fire ravaged Boulevard Houses on New Year’s Eve, residents are looking for what’s next.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Just over a week after fireworks started a devastating four-alarm fire at the Boulevard Houses NYCHA development, residents and management are trying to work toward recovery. 

The destructive blaze broke out on the southern end of Boulevard Houses, behind 891 and 893 Schenck Ave., at around 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 — after multiple witnesses told Brooklyn Paper they saw young people setting off fireworks in the area just before the fire began. Flames quickly spread through the six-story apartment buildings and an adjacent construction site — leaving seven people injured and approximately 30 families displaced. 

boulevard houses fire
The blaze affected 31 units in total, leaving dozens displaced. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

On Jan. 8, the FDNY’s fire marshal’s office concluded that the fire was caused by illegal use of fireworks. 

A week after the fire, the lingering odor of burning wood and belongings is less pungent, but residents are still trying to figure out what’s next. 

“It is heartbreaking looking at everyone’s burned out apartment over something stupid,” said resident Joan McGuinness. “Thank god no one lost their lives.”

Boulevard Houses, which is made up of 12 low-rise and six high-rise buildings, is part of the city’s PACT program, and is currently being leased to a team of developers and property managers dubbed “Boulevard Together.” Boulevard Together is responsible for property management at the complex and is completing a host of long-needed renovations and repairs at the complex. 

Doors inside Boulevard Houses after fire
A four alarm fire raged in a fire proof building on New Year’s eve night leaving 31 apartments vacant. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

A total of 31 apartments were affected by smoke and water damage, according to Senior Development Manager Dean Oliver, and the city’s Department of Buildings has placed partial vacate orders on 13 units. The displaced tenants — who initially received help and temporary shelter through the Red Cross — are staying with family members, in various hotels, or at off-site NYCHA properties in Brooklyn in Queens. 

“The plan is to get residents back in as quickly as possible,” Oliver said. 

Boulevard Together is covering all costs of hotel stays, transportation, and meals for the affected residents, a representative said. Director of Property Management Afiya Alexander added that officers from Police Service Area 2 are bringing hot meals and clothing to the site once a week.

boulevard houses exterior
One tenant said it was “heartbreaking” to see all the burned-out units at the complex. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“I am stressed, I am living with friends, most people are in hotels,” said resident Mackenzie Rogers. “We don’t know where we will be in the next two weeks. I had a new year with great plans. My birthday was on January 2. What an unexpected way to start the year.”

Another resident, Vanessa Scott, said she had four children visiting on the night of the fire – and that the blaze brought back a similar experience she had more than two decades ago, when a fire broke out in the apartment next door on New Year’s Eve. Back then, firefighters had to rescue and resuscitate her infant daughter.

fire notice in boulevard houses
A notice warns tenants to close the doors behind them in case of fire. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

“The landlord still wants January’s rent paid, but my question is, where will I be staying? Not there,” Scott said. “I just want my family and everyone involved to be treated like humans.”

Correction 1/9/23, 9:47 a.m.: This story previously misstated the number of high and low-rise buildings at Boulevard Houses and misstated Afiya Alexander’s title. We regret the error.