City extends hotel stay for Jackson Heights tenants displaced by fire, but local officials call for longer extension

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Kimberly Sinchi, a student and tenant of 89th Street in Jackson Heights, said it’s been difficult finishing her school year after the fire that displaced her and her family at a press conference on June 10. (Angélica Acevedo/QNS)

The emergency hotel stay has been extended for the hundreds of families of the Jackson Heights apartment building that went up in flames two months ago, after they called on the city for an extension past the June 20 deadline.

Hotel stays were extended for households who have registered and submitted a housing application to the New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The agency is still imploring all tenants to register so they can find them affordable housing and to assess whether they are eligible for other assistance.

Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter on Thursday, June 17, to emphasized the need for paperwork to be completed in order for HPD to help keep the displaced families housed.

“The families displaced by April’s fire in Jackson Heights are our neighbors. The City will continue to provide temporary housing REGARDLESS [sic] of immigration status,” de Blasio wrote. “We just need folks to work with [HPD] on their paperwork so we can keep them housed.”

The length of the stay depends on housing placement, according to HPD. All but four households — there were about 200 who were displaced following the large fire on April 6 — have completed their registration process necessary for the hotel extension.

But the extension is only for another additional month for some households, a tenant of 89-11 34th Ave. apartment building told QNS.

On Thursday, June 10, tenants held a press conference demanding the city give them more time to find affordable housing near Jackson Heights and asking for assistance in doing so. So far, the city has offered families long-term options in Far Rockaway or Jamaica, which tenants say is too far from their work, neighbors and schools.

Tenants, most of whom are working-class immigrants and long-time residents in the apartment building, say they’ve had trouble communicating with HPD and do not have a clear timeline of when they can return to their building.

A representative for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards’ office read a statement in support of the tenants’ demands at the press conference.

“You need more time. You and your families need another hotel stay extension in order to secure housing that is appropriate,” Richards’ statement read. “We hope the city will continue to accommodate. Now more than ever, the tenants here at 89th Street and 34th Avenue need our support as they recover.”

Local elected officials, including Assemblywoman Jessica González Rojas, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Senator Jessica Ramos, along with Richards, sent the mayor and city agencies a letter imploring for an extension to the tenants’ emergency hotel stay through September 2021.

The elected officials’ letter, sent on Tuesday, June 15, stated that while they’ve all worked in coordination to assist the tenants, their needs “have not subsided in the nine weeks since this fire” but that there have been “many gaps as they have attempted to obtain rent reductions and access other housing services, stop billing on their utilities and receive cash assistance.”

They also mention the added difficulties that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already put on the tenants. The lawmakers urged the city that the temporary housing in hotels provided by the American Red Cross be extended to Wednesday, Sept. 15.

“That is why we must continue to urge your ongoing support and partnership during this time so that we can respond in a way that provides dignity and care to some of our most vulnerable communities: low-income, working-class and immigrant New Yorkers,” the letter read. “The request has been discussed with tenants and tenant organizers who feel this would be sufficient time for them to have addressed the most urgent and basic needs they have as they work towards returning to their previous home.”

HPD and the mayor’s office have not yet commented on the calls to extend the hotel stay for an additional three months.