The flames never reached Juana Rivera's apartment, but there are still reminders of the fire that displaced 20 families in 3333 Broadway—a 1,250-unit housing complex on Broadway and West 131st Street.
"You can still smell the smoke," she said in Spanish.
The fire broke out on Aug. 23 on the 16th and 17th floors of the building, completely burning the insides of two apartment units, damaging several others, and temporarily displacing 20 families from their homes. 11 people were injured. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
According to the building's managers and the tenant association president, the worst is long over. Tenants from two damaged units have been moved into newly renovated three-bedroom apartments in the building. Urban American, the building's management company, will repair the two badly burned apartments once an insurance company finishes inspecting them.
Still, tenants who avoided severe damages to their property said the fire has left their apartments smelly, burned, and—in some cases—unhealthy. And that while the building responded quickly to the bigger issues, it's slow to fix some of the lingering issues.
Grey Monegro is a resident of the damaged 16th floor. She was home during the fire and had to take her asthmatic child to the emergency room afterward. Monegro said that management has yet to respond to her request to have her roof and walls cleaned.
"They say things to me uninterestedly, as if they don't have a date [for repairs]," Monegro said in Spanish.
Juana Rivera, Monegro's neighbor, also expressed frustration about the damages left by the fire. Like Monegro, Rivera has a child with asthma. She said that a doctor examined her daughter after the fire and confirmed that she had throat irritation as a result of the smoke. She said it was a waste of time to ask management for repairs in individual units.
Tensions over apartment repairs between tenants and management are not new—particularly for longstanding tenants who receive vouchers to stay in the building. 3333 Broadway was a state-sponsored affordable housing unit until it was privatized in 2005.
Rivera also called the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to inspect her apartment, which still has a blackened roof and floor.
The health inspection report, completed on Aug. 25, concluded that "based on the findings, appropriate action will be taken with the property owner/management to abate soot and smoke."
Rivera said that management has yet to contact her.
Still, according to Tenant Association President Alicia Barksdale, the community response to the fire was overwhelmingly supportive.
A large donation drive was held in the building to help the most affected tenants. According to Barksdale, tenants and entities like the New York Police Department, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Community Board 9, and the office of Congressman Charles Rangel participated by giving out clothing, home appliances, and furniture.
First Response Cleaning Corp, a company that provides fire damage repair services, helped to clean up much of the water damage caused by the fire hoses used to put out the blaze.
"I was just amazed," Barksdale said, applauding Urban American's role in the process. "Everybody chipped in."
And Luz Ruiz, another 16th-floor tenant who lives next to one of the burned units, said that management repaired her kitchen floor promptly after the fire.
She added that, since the fire, many tenants have shown a greater interest in participating in the fire safety programs and CPR classes that the building holds.
"Now everybody's asking, 'when's the next meeting, when's the next that, when, when, when,'" she said.
Management has also distributed fliers detailing fire prevention tips and outlining the steps to take if a fire occurs in a tenant's own apartment or a surrounding one.
Ruiz said that people should be informed about what to do in case of a fire.
"It would be good to know," she said in Spanish. "Nobody was prepared here."