3 years after devastating fire, Chinatown residents celebrate return to apartment building

The aftermath of the devastating April 2010 fire that displaced 200 residents and left one man dead in Manhattan's Chinatown.

Three years after a devastating fire that displaced 200 people in New York City's Chinatown neighborhood, the residents of 289 Grand Street have finally moved back into their apartments.

The New York City Department of Housing Preservation (HPD) and Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) joined elected officials and members of the Chinatown community at a press conference on Thursday to recognize the building’s restoration.

“We’re here to celebrate because they’re able to go back to their home,” said AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui of the building’s tenants. “At the same time, it really took a lot of struggle to get back, because after the fire there was an attempt by the owner not to allow the tenants to move back in. There was a whole series of organizing and also a legal battle to get the tenants back in.”

The fire, which destroyed 289 Grand Street and two other buildings late one evening in April 2010, was one of the city’s worst in recent years. Two hundred people were left homeless, and one man was killed. Another 33 were injured.

“Standing in the street watching your building burn is something I don’t want anyone to go through,” tenant Elizabeth Taylor said.

Ever since the flames died down, city officials and advocacy groups have worked closely with tenants to repair and restore the building. With support from HPD’s legal team and elected officials including New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, the tenants of 289 Grand Street successfully filed a lawsuit that required their landlord to pay for the building’s rehabilitation.

“Today is also a great day for those of us who have consistently fought for the protection and preservation of affordable housing here in Chinatown and throughout our city,” said Silver. He called the AAFE "the driving force behind this project and so many others of concern to the residents of our community.”

The fire that leveled 289 Grand Street was hardly the exception in a neighborhood that has seen its fair share of infernos in recent years. Just last week, a boiler explosion on Pike Street injured at least seven people, with two left in critical condition. According to Silver, many of area’s older buildings are ill-equipped to deal with modern electrical demands like air conditioning.

“Fires in Chinatown are an everyday occurrence,” noted Chin. “Just this morning, there was another fire on Elizabeth Street, and last week there was one at 17 Pike. We just have to find a solution to create better affordable housing, and that’s something we’ve really got to work on starting now.”

Added Silver, ““Hopefully this celebration today will be the forerunner of celebrations for those other buildings.”