As victims of the Bronx apartment building fire are laid to rest, community leaders on Thursday demanded city officials do more to help survivors living in temporary hotels find permanent homes.
Mona Davids, who organized the news conference, said displaced tenants were told they must move out and stay with relatives, go to a homeless shelter, or return to the building where 17 people died Sunday in one of the deadliest fires in city history.
“Many of the families feel abandoned,” Davids said outside the high-rise building.
The fire struck at the heart of the Gambian community in the Bronx — many of them immigrants working low-wage jobs, with few options for housing. Earlier this week, more than 200 building residents slept in hotels provided by the Red Cross and the building’s owners.
Tenants and their advocates argued residents should not be forced to move back into the 19-story building, which they said currently lacks heat.
Kelly Magee, a spokeswoman for the building owners, said the heat is on.
“The building has heat and we have a robust team in the lobby available to serve tenants and address any concerns related to the fire or otherwise,” Magee said.
Kate Smart, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, denied that anyone was being forced to return to the building.
"While affected families are receiving notifications about if they can reoccupy their homes—no one is being forced or asked to leave hotels," she said in a written statement. "Lodging remains available to any resident who would like to stay in emergency hotels. The City continues to provide support and resources to all families affected by Sunday’s fire."
Officials said the fire, which started on the third floor, was caused by a defective electric space heater. The 17 people who perished, including 8 children, died from smoke inhalation.
In the days following the deadly fire, donations came pouring into the various campaigns raising funds to assist the residents, but community leaders and tenant advocates said Monday the money has not reached survivors who need the funds to help them begin rebuilding their lives. One online campaign raised more than $1 million.
Fundraisers said the money will be distributed, but has to go through a vetting process before it can be fully disbursed.
“They need the cash,” said Muhammad Mardha, chairman of the African Council. “They need food. The food we’re providing them with is not helpful. Some of them are living with diabetes. So, give them money. Let them cook the food they want to eat, which is good for them.”
This story has been updated with a statement from the mayor's office. Jake Offenhartz contributed reporting.