Jackson Heights Council candidate introduces proposal for city response to help vacated tenants

City Council candidate Shekar Krishnan’s housing justice policy plan details needed emergency services following an eight-alarm inferno on 89th Street. (Photo by Lloyd Mitchell)

In the weeks that followed an eight-alarm fire that destroyed a Jackson Heights apartment building on April 6, displacing more than 150 families, the city’s response has come under scrutiny.

According to the Red Cross, nearly 500 people were made homeless by the blaze and while some found shelter with relatives or friends, 98 families required emergency lodging from the city.

Emergency hotel stays were set to expire April 20 but were extended an extra two months until June 20. On Friday, April 30, Shekar Krishnan, a candidate for City Council in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, released a comprehensive housing policy proposal to demand accountability from the city government and ensure it provides emergency services to help tenants vacated from their homes due to fires, landlord property destruction, or other forms of tenant harassment.

“Over the course of my years as a lawyer for housing justice, I have unfortunately seen far too many tenants displaced by vacate orders and fought alongside them in lengthy battles to ensure they return home,” Krishnan said. “A vacate order is when the city determines that a building is unsafe to live in, and it mandates that all the tenants immediately leave. It can happen in the case of fire — like at the 89th Street building in Jackson Heights recently — or when a landlord has rendered the building uninhabitable through property destruction or cutting off essential services like heat or hot water.”

Krishnan added that recent crises in neighborhoods across the city have demonstrated how “underprepared” the city is in that regard and that a plan for “decisive and comprehensive action” from the New York City government is necessary to support tenants, prevent homelessness, and protect the community at risk of displacement. Among other things, Krishnan’s proposed policies would provide local temporary housing for vacated tenants in their own communities, instead of elsewhere, and force landlords to comply with strict timelines for repairs or automatically lose their building to an Article 7A administrator with full city funding and support.

Krishnan’s proposal to help vacated tenants would also fund language-accessible services that are most urgently needed when they are forced from their homes.

“When tenants are forcibly displaced from their homes because of vacate orders, it is a moment of crisis for their families and their community,” Krishnan said. “Our city government should be prepared to act quickly in these moments, and address the urgent needs that such displacement creates.”

Krishnan said these actions are key to supporting tenants and community-led decision-making and organizing efforts and to fulfilling the city’s responsibility to New Yorkers in times of housing emergencies.

QNS reached out to City Hall and is awaiting its response. Read Krishnan’s full plan here.