By all accounts Twin Parks North West in the Bronx was an unusually vibrant community, a small village within an affordable-housing high rise, home to a tightly knit Gambian community and tenants from elsewhere in West Africa and Latin America. That’s in part what made the January fire that killed seventeen residents especially tragic. That, and the sense that it didn’t need to happen.
The details are by now well-known: a space-heater left running over several days malfunctioned and set a third-floor unit on fire. As the tenants fled, a door that was supposed to close automatically remained open. Smoke poured from the apartment and into a stairwell, where it was sucked upward in a chimney-like effect because of another open door twelve floors higher. New York Mayor Eric Adams, just days into his new job, made the unfortunate misstep of appearing to blame the victims when he said the key lesson to take from the fire was: “Close the door.” In fact, what the disaster made clear are the flaws in the larger affordable- and low-income housing system, a problem that extends beyond the borders of New York. More and more, large real-estate companies around the country have found there’s money to be made in buying affordable-housing properties, given the demand for low-cost apartments that tenants can use rental vouchers to pay for. And many of these companies tend to prioritize profit over the kinds of maintenance and repairs needed to keep buildings safely habitable.
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