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NYC needs to learn from Bronx building collapse

Jumaane Millette

The collapse of 1915 Billingsley Terrace in Morris Heights in the Bronx is further proof of the city’s neglect of Black and brown communities. For the safety and well-being of residents, officials must concentrate on the upkeep and preservation of the housing and hold themselves accountable for timely responses to tenants’ complaints.

The partial collapse of the Bronx building occurred on Dec. 11, 2023. Six apartments were destroyed during the collapse and over 100 residents, including children, were displaced at the beginning of winter. Residents were placed in motels immediately after the collapse and then moved into shelters, where they continued to stay.

In 2023, 73 complaints were filed against the landlords before the collapse. These complaints varied from issues with pests and mice to a lack of heat, hot water and collapsing walls and ceilings. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development was responsible for processing and reviewing such complaints.

A portion of the complaints issued by tenants were marked as resolved due to HPD’s inability to gain access to the building to verify them. These practices indicate that what happened at 1915 Billingsley Terrace wasn’t an isolated experience.

Tenants across NYC were negatively impacted by the lack of oversight on landlords by HPD. Moreover, in many cases filing complaints can threaten tenants’ stability, with 40% of residents experiencing retaliatory actions such as unjust evictions.

Low-income communities of color continue to be affected by the instability further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which made them more sensitive to rent issues and less likely to file potentially retaliatory complaints. Even if a complaint was filed, the issues were unlikely to be fixed since a significant portion of tenants in NYC have open cases in housing courts, which have been backlogged over two years.

NYC is utterly unprepared to protect the rights of renters. The options currently offered are underwhelming and don’t effectively protect tenants. New York City departments and officials must take accountability for their role in incentivizing landlords who fail to provide resources for buildings and should work to help tenants affected by continuous neglect.

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Jumaane Millette, Photography Editor
Jumaane Millette is the Photography Editor for The Ticker.
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