Long after explosion, East Harlem tenants fight on

New York, July 8 — More than four months after the gas explosion in East Harlem, tenants are still suffering from the disaster.  The blowup affected more homes than just those in the two buildings that were completely demolished by it.

“A lot of people think that only those living in the two buildings destroyed by the explosion were hurt,’’ said a resident. “We live next door and our apartment was contaminated from the explosion and still is.”

Fifty-six residents of the Olga Mendez Apartments at 1652 Park Ave.  refuse to accept their horrible living conditions without protest.  They have complained to Joel Gendels, CEO of Cornell Pace Inc., the real estate company that manages this building.

Two weeks ago, they met in the courtyard under a blazing sun to form the 1652 Tenants Association.  There, tenants complained of dust carrying lead and asbestos, holes behind their stoves expelling water bugs and rodents, and broken furniture, televisions and computers. Moreover, the residents said they have received full rent bills for four months since the blast.

“We are not getting any help from elected officials or other groups,” said Luis Rivera in an interview with New Yorkers in Solidarity with Survivors of East Harlem/El Barrio. “We have to help ourselves. That is why we have formed a tenants association.  We want to get information from tenants about themselves and their apartments before the explosion, right after the blast and now. But we need guidance,” he stressed.


Other tenants expressed the need for a tenants association because of the continuing difficult living conditions.

Dust, debris and soot created by the explosion have made it particularly difficult for asthma sufferers. “I was hospitalized for asthma,” said Patricia Arthur Garner, a nine-year resident of the building. “I had an asthma attack two weeks ago that was really bad. I thought I was going to die. I can still smell the gas. I love my apartment. I put a lot of work into it. I still love it, but it is all messed up from the explosion.

“It is very frustrating. Despite the damage, the landlord is charging us full rent for the four months since the explosion. We really need a tenants association,” explained Garner.

Chandra Weaver, who was elected secretary of the tenants association, said she was moved to another house by an environmental agency because high levels of lead were found in her apartment.  “Then they told me I had to return to my apartment. There’s a big hole behind my stove and behind every stove in the building. The holes are where the gas came from but now mice and water bugs are coming out of them.  We have no gas. We can’t do any cooking.  And the landlord wants us to pay rent,” Weaver emphasized.

The group elected floor captains for each floor who will go door-to-door and collect their neighbors’ complaints.  Tenants also plan to report their complaints to 311 — New York City’s hotline for services.

Together, the tenants are organizing to demand the justice they deserve.