Deadly Fires in Philadelphia and New York City Highlight Dangerous Living Conditions in Federally Owned and Subsidized Housing
We mourn the horrific loss of life that occurred this past week in Philadelphia and New York City during two of the deadliest apartment fires in recent history.
On January 5th in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia, a 3-story row house owned and managed by the Philadelphia Housing Authority caught fire, tragically killing 12 of the building’s 26 residents. Among those killed were 4 adults 8 children. While investigators are looking into the cause of the fire, severe overcrowding and inadequate fire safety measures contributed to its lethality. One of the two units in the building housed 14 residents and none of the building’s six smoke detectors were functional at the time of the fire, according to firefighters.
Later that week, on January 9th, a fire broke out in Twin Parks Northwest, a 19 story 120-unit federally subsidized apartment building in the Bronx. According to investigations, a malfunctioning space heater was the cause of the fire. While flames did not extend past the apartment of origin and the immediate hallway, smoke spread throughout the building, killing at least 17 residents and leaving 15 in critical condition. New York City fire code requires all apartment doors to be self-closing, in order to prevent the spread of smoke in the event of a fire. Although full investigations are still underway, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro stated that the door of the apartment where the fire began did not close on its own, indicating that a maintenance issue likely increased the number of fatalities.
These tragedies point to a larger failure in the nation’s housing system. In the world’s wealthiest country, poor and working-class communities continue to suffer from decades of disinvestment in government owned and subsidized housing, which forces families to accept overcrowded, poorly maintained and dangerous living conditions in order to keep a roof over their heads. We at NAHT will remember the lives lost this past week as we work to make safe and habitable housing a reality for all HUD tenants.