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Sunnyside stands with neighbors displaced by 5-alarm inferno last year as they face further evictions by landlord

Council Member Julie Won rallies with tenants who were displaced by a 5-alarm fire in Sunnyside last year and face eviction from temporary housing. Photo courtesy of Julie Won’s office

June 11, 2024 By Bill Parry

Council Member Julie Won and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez on Saturday rallied with their constituents, who were displaced by a massive five-alarm fire at their Sunnyside apartment complex just days before Christmas, to call on A&E Real Estate Holdings to extend tenants’ temporary leases.

Families and individuals from at least 28 units at 43-09 47th St. accepted relocation to other A&E-owned apartment buildings across the city and are at risk of losing their homes for a second time if the landlord does not extend the leases, which end on July 2.

Won demanded A&E reconsider its decision to terminate the temporary leases and make every effort to assist displaced tenants to move back to Sunnyside in A&E properties until construction is completed at their old apartment building.

Photo courtesy of Julie Won’s office

“After our neighbors spent the last 171 days rebuilding their lives, it would be beyond cruel to displace them for a second time,” Won said. “A&E should extend the 6-month temporary lease agreements until it completes construction at 43-09 47th Ave.”

The inferno on Dec. 20, 2023, was sparked by a contractor using an unauthorized blow torch in a sixth-floor vacant apartment. The fire then traveled up the walls and into a cock loft, where it rapidly spread to other apartments. No one died in the fire, but 450 residents from 107 apartments were forced to leave the building.

“Our neighbors lost their homes through no fault of their own and should not be displaced again and again,” Won said. “I will continue to work with the tenants and every level of government until every single tenant can move back home.”

Photo courtesy of Julie Won’s office

After the fire, A&E offered the displaced tenants the option of signing a temporary relocation license agreement for “up to six months if needed,” allowing them to rent apartments at other A&E properties at the same monthly rate they had paid at their Sunnyside building.

Despite telling tenants that they may be able to move back to their homes before the end of six months or that A&E would “work with them if they needed more time,” the landlord shared plans to terminate these relocation agreements, raising rents on the tenants that accepted their initial offer.

“It would be unconscionable for A&E to terminate temporary leases and raise rents on tenants that had their lives upended by this terrible fire,” Velázquez said. “These actions raise the possibility that these families that have been through so much could lose their homes for a second time.”

The Congresswoman said she stood in solidarity with the tenants, including some who became homeless after the fire, despite vacant units owned by A&E in Sunnyside reportedly being listed on the open market.

“I strongly urge A&E to reconsider their decision to terminate these relocation agreements and do more to help their tenants,” she said.

State Senator Michael Gianaris and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards wrote a letter with Won and Velázquez to A&E Executive Chairman Douglas F. Eisenberg outlining their demands. A&E ignored the letter and did not provide a response, according to Won’s office.

“These Sunnyside families, who have already been through so much upheaval in the last six months, deserve a roof over their heads,” Richards said. “They should not be re-traumatized with the threat of losing another home, after losing their original one to a devastating fire during the holidays, through no fault of their own.”

Richard added that A&E must work with the displaced families and extend their temporary leases until their original apartments are fully restored.

“I am heartbroken for the residents still impacted following last winter’s fire in Sunnyside,” Gianaris said. “I will continue to work with these families to do everything I can to support them, and that includes calling on A&E to do the right thing and find them housing while their homes are rebuilt.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for A&E Real Estate said, “We have made steady progress stabilizing the building, but the damage was severe and there are no quick fixes here. We have been transparent with tenants about those challenges and that the emergency hotel stays and discounted apartments we provided after the fire were a temporary solution to give everyone breathing room as they made longer-term plans. Ultimately, the insurance process will determine how to compensate all parties for the losses in the fire.”

Neighborhood nonprofits and the business community stood by the tenants after the inferno and continue to support them.

“Sunnyside Community Services stands with the former residents in calling for an extension of their temporary leases in order for these families to have some stability. Members of the SCS senior center and children from our youth programs were forced out of their homes when this fire occurred,” SCS Executive Director Judy Zangwill said. “We worked with them through the shock and trauma as this community rallied together to support them. Further hurt could be avoided by simply extending the leases while renovations to the building continue.”

Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District executive director Dirk McCall de Palomá echoed that solidarity with the tenants. “Sunnyside Shines, like all of us in Sunnyside, was horrified by the fire and the aftermath. We were glad to step up and do what we could to support the relief work, including working with Sunnyside Community Services, the Office of NYC Council Member Julie Won, The Children’s Lab School – Q343, Aviation High School, Woodside On The Move, Johanna Carmona and many others,” he said. “We want to see the residents return to their homes and stand with Council Member Won in her work to secure their lease extensions.”

email the author: news@queenspost.com

2 Comments

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Jim

Who cares about these people. Maybe if they would have had insurance instead of going on vacation to Disneyworld this wouldn’t have happened.

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SunnysidePostSucks

how can they be evicted if they dont live there and everything was destroyed in the fire? just give them a new least at market rent.

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