City investigating maintenance issues amid fires at NYCHA buildings

Probe centered on public housing fires involving malfunctioning trash chutes, doors

New York /
Feb.February 04, 2022 09:45 AM

NYCHA’s Greg Russ along with the Jacob Riis Houses in East Village (left) and 117 West 90th Street on the Upper West Side (right) (Getty Images, LoopNet, iStock/Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

Maintenance issues are at the center of a probe by the city’s Department of Investigation into a recent string of fires in public housing developments.

The agency is investigating three separate fires, according to The City. Those fires all devastated NYCHA developments: the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, Wise Towers on the Upper West Side and Mitchel Houses in the South Bronx.

Investigators are examining maintenance problems tenants say were left unaddressed, including issues with trash chutes and a door that didn’t open correctly.

On Nov. 5, a fire started inside the trash chute on the 20th floor of the Mitchel Houses building on East 135th Street. A six-year-old boy was killed and 11 tenants were injured, according to The City. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it was the second significant fire at the building in less than a year.

A Dec. 28 fire at Wise Towers at 133 West 90th Street broke out within a trash chute, allowing smoke to spread through the building. An elevator was broken when firefighters arrived, impeding rescue efforts. Six tenants and one firefighter were injured in the fire, according to The City.

Private group PACT Renaissance Collaborative has managed the building since December 2020 through the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together program.

One cause of the fire being investigated was a disabled trash chute door, which was left open and in turn created a chimney effect, similar to the spread of the fire that killed 17 people at 333 East 181st Street in January.

Meanwhile, a fire at the Jacob Riis Houses on Dec. 16 may have been started by faulty batteries from e-bikes. A man inside the apartment containing the e-bikes died, while a mother of teenagers reportedly failed to escape because the front door was jammed. She was gravely injured and remains hospitalized.

“DOI’s investigation into fires at NYCHA buildings — two involving trash chutes and a third involving a door that did not properly open — are ongoing,” said DOI spokesperson Diane Struzzi.

NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt told the outlet the agency was “working with DOI during this ongoing investigation.”

Last month’s deadly fire at Twin Parks North West was sparked by a malfunctioning space heater, according to officials. Lawmakers have responded by pushing to mandate heat sensors in all federally funded buildings.

[The City] — Holden Walter-Warner





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