Grand cheers in Chinatown as building reopens

BY CLARISSA-JAN LIM  |  Elected officials and several tenants of 289 Grand St. two weeks ago celebrated the tenants’ return to the building after it was ravaged by a fire in 2010.

Joining the tenants were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Councilmember Margaret Chin and State Sen. Daniel Squadron, as well as Mathew Wambua, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, representatives of Asian Americans for Equality and other local elected officials, plus members of the local Chinatown community.

In a hard-fought legal battle lasting nearly two years, the 289 Grand St. Tenants Association, with the help of AAFE, the H.P.D. legal team and the support of the area’s local politicians, won their case in early 2012 against the building’s landlord, Wong’s Grand Realty Corp. The court ordered the property owner to fully restore all apartments to the tenants by March 1, 2013.

It is also significant win for the community in terms of protecting affordable housing. Elected officials at the press conference stressed their dedication to protecting affordable housing.

“This victory belongs to the tenants of 289 Grand St.,” Chin said. “Since the devastating fire in 2010, we have fought for their right to return home and rebuild their lives. Protecting tenants’ rights and affordable housing is of the utmost priority in Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, and I will continue to make sure these voices are heard.”

Silver expressed gratitude to AAFE, H.P.D. and other officials “for their hard work and advocacy in protecting the rights” of the 289 Grand St. tenants. He pledged to continue in his effort to “preserve and protect affordable housing in Chinatown and throughout Lower Manhattan.”

The 2010 fire torched three residential buildings, of which 289 Grand St., despite heavy fire and water damage, emerged in the best shape. The other two buildings, 283 and 285 Grand Sts., sustained such severe damage they were deemed unsalvageable and required demolition.

Two hundred people were displaced, 33 injured and an 87-year-old man died in what was deemed one of Chinatown’s worst fires. Property owners declared the repairs needed for 289 Grand St. “economically infeasible” and pushed for razing the residential building. However, H.P.D. and the Department of Buildings inspected and concluded that, despite the damage, the building could be repaired and restored to habitability.

H.P.D. lifted the vacate order in April of this year, and all residents of 289 Grand St. returned to their newly renovated, still rent-regulated homes.

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