Two days after a devastating four-alarm fire an East New York public housing development, residents are piecing together what’s next in their lives and the new year.
The blaze began near NYCHA’s Boulevard Houses at 893 Schenck. Ave. at around 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, according to the FDNY, and quickly spread through units at 891 and 893 Schenck Ave. and an adjacent construction site. Residents reported hearing loud explosions from people playing with fireworks shortly before the fire broke out, and firefighters arrived to find construction equipment and 60 apartments on fire.
More than 130 firefighters were called to battle the blaze, stretching hose lines to reach interior apartments and beat back flames and smoke reaching toward the apartment buildings from the construction site. Despite the speed and strength of the fire, searches of the construction site and apartments proved negative for people trapped.
The blaze injured seven people – five residents and two firefighters — and displaced at least 80 people, according to the American Red Cross.
“I saw kids playing with the fireworks as I was walking my grandkids,” said resident Tony Robertson. “I don’t know what to do. This is truly remarkable.”
Another resident, 74-year-old Lisa Perez, said her grandson Carlos called her screaming that the apartment was on fire, and said “it was only by some miracle of god that his apartment isn’t badly damaged.”
The FDNY has not yet announced the cause of the fire — though Fire Marshals were seen removing box of used fireworks from the scene on Sunday night.
Boulevard Houses, a NYCHA development, is part of the city’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together program. Through PACT, public housing developments are added to the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program and converted to Project-Based Section 8. While still under NYCHA ownership, PACT developments like Boulevard Houses are leased out to private developers, which take over property management, provide on-site social services, and fund and oversee needed repairs and improvements to the properties.
Property Resources Corporation and Lisa Management, Inc. provide property management and upkeep at the complex and at the Belmont-Sutter Area and Fiorentino Plaza Houses, with rehabilitation work set to be carried out by Broadway Builders LLC and Melcara Corporation. A number of other developers – Hudson Companies, Property Resources Corporation, and Duvernay + Brooks — also oversee goings-on at Boulevard Houses.
In 2022, residents at nearby Linden Houses, which was converted via the PACT program at about the same time as Boulevard Houses told Brooklyn Paper that the conversion to the PACT program had been rocky as residents struggled to get in touch with their new landlords even as longstanding issues like heat outages persisted.
Renovations at Boulevard Houses were set to begin in February, residents said.
The day after the fire, a tree in the courtyard of the complex stood scorched and blackened. Soot-blackened walls and the remains of a dining room set and scorched clothing were visible inside one of the burned-out units.
Josephine Senator, an 83-year-old resident of the complex, said the explosions from the fireworks sent her running into her bedroom.
“They were relentless for about 10 minutes straight,” Senator said. “I am tough and have 55 years in this apartment. Now, I have to rebuild my life. I want them to get caught because this isn’t right.”
A representative of Boulevard Together, the group of developers, contractors, and property managers overseeing Boulevard Houses, told Brooklyn Paper the group is working with the Red Cross to find hotel accommodations for residents impacted by the fire and tenants with health conditions. Boulevard Together construction crews are also working to clean up water surrounding the buildings, replace doors, and seal broken windows — and has increased security guards on the property.
Newly-elected Assembly Member Chris Banks — who took office on Jan. 1 — said he would stand by the residents as they recover.
“I am heartbroken for the residents who lost everything, I am elieved we didn’t have a lost of life going into the new year,” Banks said. “I want the residents to know I am here to apply pressure on all parties involved in this unfortunate incident.”
— Additional reporting by Kirstyn Brendlen
Correction 1/2/2023, 3:38 p.m.: This story previously incorrectly stated the fire took place at Penn-Wortman Houses, and misstated the building’s management company under the PACT program. We regret the error.
Update 1/4/2023, 4:21 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional information from Boulevard Together.