Residents of Jackson Heights, Queens who were displaced by an eight-alarm fire on April 6 marched last week in their latest effort to gain access to their scorched homes.
The full weight of a 5-month battle was evident on the faces of the 88th Street tenants as they gathered on Sept. 2 at the corner of 78th Street and 34th Avenue for what they called a march for dignity. With many holding a child in one hand and a protest sign in the other, this rally exhibited the true diversity of ages and ethnicities who were unfortunately uprooted by the spring inferno.
Now, almost six months later, the dozens upon dozens of families say all they want is to retrieve their belongings before they are tossed away.
“Over 50 families in 43 apartments still have never re-entered once to retrieve belongings. We’re doing this action because it’s fundamentally important to understand why city agencies and the Owner have not yet come to a consensus to salvage our belongings at 89-07 34th Ave.,” Angie Espino, a member of the 89th Street Tenant Association said.
As immigrants, those who once resided in the apartment building spoke of the importance of the personal effects they yearn to retrieve. From photographs to trinkets, these items that remain behind boarded windows and police tape are not only their last link to their native countries, but also long deceased family members.
“We know that many apartments have been robbed since the fire, and that high-value items have gone missing. Some of our neighbors migrated to the United States with nothing but identifying documents and few items that connect to their country of birth. We have lost access to more than our identity documents in this fire that remain in the building. We have lost pictures of our loved ones, original documents that will be hard to replace, more so during a pandemic,” Espino said. “An equitable opportunity to recuperate our belongings is the least we deserve.”
Since the fire, families have dwelled in hotels and shelters all across the city as they attempt to locate affordable housing that matched what they once had. However, for many this has been an extremely difficult feat without the access to important documents and the economic struggle induced by the pandemic.
Marching and chanting, the tenants made their way from Travers Park down to their apartment building, calling for Kedex Properties (the owner), Department of Buildings, Department of Housing Preservation, and the development to coordinate a plan that allows residents to salvage their items.
The tenants are begging for Kedex Properties to allow them to retrieve what is rightfully theirs and what they say are not valuables but merely identifying factors to their heritage.
As the marchers descended upon their old homes, they were watched by several security guards who patrol the property day and night, preventing anyone from gaining access. So, in the shadow of their lost apartments they admonished their landlord for what they say is mistreatment.
Jah has lived at this location for over 60 years with her family. She says she was led to believe that once the building was deemed safe, she would be permitted back into her home.
Since then, she stated, Kedex Management has told all of the tenants that nothing is salvageable. Although she and the other tenants claim the building’s owner was able to retrieve his belongings.
“I am disgusted and disappointed by how the Bolanos family has neglected our rights to enter our apartments,” Jah said in anguish over the property manager’s lack of communication and compassion for the plight of over a hundred families.
Nube Bermejo resided at 89-07 34th Ave. for about eight years with her husband and three children as well as other family members. Pleading with the owners, Bermejo requested that anyone who has the power to help to please do so.
“We ask for mercy to the owners or to the City to please put their hand on our heats and give us an evacuation plan for our belongings that means a lot to us. It was and is my home, and everything left inside is still mine. We also ask our elected officials who are here to help us clarify this situation that has us feeling emotionally drained,” Bermejo said.