Mayor Eric Adams’ office has only distributed a fraction of what it’s raised so far for victims of the fire that devastated the Twin Parks North West building in the Bronx, more than two months after the blaze.
In the hours after smoke inhalation from the Jan. 9 fire killed 17 people — including eight children — and hundreds were displaced from their homes, the Adams administration began soliciting donations through the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
Days after the fire, the mayor’s office promised “every dollar will go directly to those affected by the fire.” But out of $4.4 million raised through the fund, only $270,000 has been distributed in direct payments to tenants – all of it in one-time allotments of $2,250, according to information provided by City Hall.
City Hall released figures Thursday night showing a total of $900,000 has been distributed so far out of the $4.4 million. A portion of that is the $270,000 in direct payments. The rest represents a donation by rapper and Bronx native Cardi B who covered funeral costs and repatriation services for the victims — as well as city-raised funds that went toward contracts for vendors providing food to displaced residents, the spokesperson said.
City Hall did not disclose the size of Cardi B’s donation or specific numbers regarding the vendor contracts.
“As we look ahead, our goal is to distribute funds in a holistic manner that supports the needs of families in the long-term and doesn’t leave them to work a system on their own,” mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy said in an emailed statement. “The families who were victim to this fire need support that includes housing, food services, childcare, and other services, and need a plan in place that ensures they can fully recover.”
Current and former tenants who Gothamist spoke to Thursday night responded to the city’s approach with alarm.
“Do you mean I can’t be trusted?” said Tony Johnson, a 64-year-old Twin Parks resident, who said he filled out paperwork to receive new furniture, but had not heard back. He said he’s paid out of pocket to replace his bed and his sofa and chairs still reeked of smoke.
Johnson has received some funding so far, but said much of it has gone toward paying for cabs to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where he is receiving chemo treatments.
“If you want to help me you’re going to give it to me right then and there, you’re not going to tell us what to do with my money,” he said.
Residents said there is still a dire need for the millions the city has raised and described a sense of exasperation after being led to believe the money generated by the widely touted fundraiser would go toward their immediate needs.
“Most of us are dangling in the wind, we don’t know what’s happening next week. We can’t make plans for our family,” said Dana Campbell, a former tenant of the Twin Parks building, who is living in a hotel with her six children. “You raised this money that’s supposed to help me, so help me.”
A single mother and longtime employee with the city Parks Department, Campbell said her apartment was down the hall from where the fire broke out and was now uninhabitable. She has taken unpaid leave from her job as she continues to search for new housing – a challenge for many tenants who relied on housing vouchers that have been difficult to transfer.
The $2,250 gift card provided by the Mayor’s Fund was spent on clothes and food in a matter of weeks, Campbell said. It was the only direct cash payment her family had received from the fund so far.
Other sources of relief have come far faster than the funds raised by the mayor’s office, tenants said. Some have received at least $5,000 from the Gambian Youth Organization, a small Bronx group that raised more than $1 million in the aftermath of the fire. Those recipients recently received a second check that was dependent on household size, according to tenants.
Bolo Onotosho, a longtime Bronx resident and the head of Community Board 5, said he had helped other groups that were looking to distribute money to Bronx tenants, but the need has been overwhelming. A recent event he tried to organize ended up being cut short after too many tenants showed up seeking relief.
“People still need help,” Onotosho said. “When the cameras are out, that’s when the folks need help most.”