Philadelphia, Bronx Fires Highlight Urban Housing Disparities

In Summary

In the last week at least 30 people were killed, including 15 children, in major fires in Philadelphia and New York. 

In less than one week, 30 people died in large fires in urban housing in Philadelphia and New York. 

RELATED: Huge House Fire in Philadelphia Kills 13, Including 7 Children 

In Philadelphia, 13 people, including seven children, were killed when a three-story row house went up in flames after a Christmas tree ignited. “This is without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history, the loss of so many people in such a tragic way,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.  

Less than a week later, tragedy struck in the Bronx, where 17 people were killed and at least 63 were injured when a malfunctioning electric space heater caused a fire at an apartment building. “This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York, and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city,” said Mayor Eric Adams.   

RELATED: Space Heater the Cause of Bronx Apt Fire That Left 17 Dead, 63 Injured 

According to ABC7 NY, a $1 billion lawsuit has been filed against the NY apartment’s landlords, alleging they knew of “defective conditions” and failed to properly maintain the building.  

RELATED: Space Heater the Cause of Bronx Apt Fire That Left 17 Dead, 63 Injured  

At the root of this issue are deep historical inequalities that prevent access to affordable housing and social mobility. Representative Ritchie Torres, who represents New York’s 15th congressional district, spoke to BNC about the issue. “When we allow our affordable housing developments to be plagued by decades of disinvestment, we are putting lives at risk. These buildings are wide open to catastrophic fires that can cost people their lives, including the lives of children.”  

On Black News Tonight, host Marc Lamont Hill spoke with Dr. Camille Zubrinsky Charles and Rasheedah Phillips about the disparities in urban housing putting communities of color at risk. Charles said issues like this predate redlining and highlight neglect in diverse communities. “These are communities that are often hidden from sight from mainstream American and so these things can fester and become system without most of us every really seeing it until a tragedy occurs,” she said.  

Phillips, who is a housing activist, said it’s a national problem seen with the underfunding of repairs to public housing. “Philadelphia is an old city. It has an old housing stock,” Phillips said. “So, what we see is that a lot of the houses that people are living in, that people are able to afford, or that they have pushed into because of things like redlining that has lasting effects and that still continues to effect the patterns of where people can live and access housing in a city that’s affordable. We also see that this housing is often not safe, not healthy and not habitable for people to live in.”  

Officials in both Philadelphia and New York have made resources available to those impacted by the tragedy as they remain under investigation.  

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