The Elmhurst Horror

December 2020

Elmhurst, Queens, New York

Here’s a true story of domestic terror and chilling impunity. No names have been changed because there mostly aren’t really any.

It happened on a cold early morning just an hour before sunrise, 6 days before Christmas, a 5-alarm fire engulfed a three family house. The inferno spread so rapaciously that it instantly killed three men as they desperately tried to flee while trapped in their rooms, their only exit was sliding doors by the balcony on the second floor, which were locked. It also torched the three floor house attached to it, making both structures inhabitable.

Before the deadly blaze the house was proficiently and exceedingly habitable. Since the fire was extinguished, a lot of mystery still surrounds this tragedy. Not much is known about the tenants; especially their names which have not been identified, notably the three who perished in the inferno except for their ethnicity. The one tenant who survived the destruction and the deaths, also refused to be identified.

This house had an incredible lengthy record of housing violations going back 4 years with over $200,000 in fines. Mostly in the last two years, the former landlord had repurposed what was once a nice two family house and transformed it into a makeshift boarding house with single room occupations constructing seven rooms on each floor from the basement to the attic. Even the garage wasn’t spared as the original landlord Mumarrawa Mahmood managed to convert it into a rental where the superintendent of the house lived and added more dwellings to it even after repeated visits and fines by the Department Of Buildings.

December 2020

Whatever fines the original landlord accrued by subdividing the house probably got evened out with the monthly or weekly rents that were provided by dozens of tenants occupying all those SROs; the superintendent of the illegally converted home paid 700 a month (usually supers live rent free in apt. buildings). Now multiply that by about 10 or 20 as was claimed in a complaint by a prospect “tenant” in January this year. One of the last complaints filed to the DOB was by a person who was looking to rent a room and described 60 people occupying the house at once. 

Although even with all that non-taxed cash flowing in from this ratchet set up it was still not enough to avoid foreclosure.

When the original landlord decided to finally unload it after gradually gutting it for 4 years, it got purchased by an LLC  consisting of the new landlord and a bank from Texas last February. The LLC wasted no time making their presence felt as they attempted to force out the tenants from their SRO’s by shutting off the heat or buying them out after the DOB put a full vacate order at the start of the year.

The final DOB building violation report and full vacate order on the house took place on the morning after it burned down.

December 2020

The internal dilapidation cited in years of violations from the illegal construction  manifested itself as the house burned. The roof that was cited in the DOB’s records easily collapsed during the blaze as the second floor ceiling also dropped on the firefighters while they were extinguishing the inferno.

December 2020

 

December 2020

The day after the fire, the FDNY put up a table down the block from the destroyed house on the pedestrian triangle on Corona Ave and 90th Street, displayed with safety brochures and flyers, even though the investigation of the blaze was not concluded. This gave off a predetermination by the department and also by the city that the fire was the fault of the tenants.

December 2020

The following day after the table got packed up, FDNY marshals determined that the early morning blaze was deliberately set off by an accelerant substance and security camera footage showed a man walking inside and then coming out of the house in a short amount of time. Now the premature result from what was initially thought as carelessness by tenants has turned into a possible cases of arson and homicide in less than 24 hours.

After concluding criminal intent was involved in the fire, the FDNY drew a warrant for the landlord and owner of the house and with the NYPD, found his residence in Flushing. During a search of his SUV, dogs sniffed out gloves with traces of the accelerant that set off the inferno inside the vehicle. The NYPD confiscated tech devices from the suspect, notably digital recording devices and a portable hard drive. Despite the procurement of this evidence and the apparent motive to evict the residents, the landlord and only suspect, Eric Chen, was not arrested.

Four months have passed since the house burned down and there has been apparently no follow up on this story from local news despite the fact that arson was the cause of the inferno that destroyed this house and incinerated three men alive. Also evident is the utter lack of a follow up and seeming abandonment of the case by city department enforcement despite the debris from the blaze still present on the ground in front of the garage door.

April 2021

 

April 2021

 

April 2021

 

April 2021

What also remains from this destruction is the still smouldering odor of acrid smoke and flesh. But what also lingers in the ether here is the fact that an act of cold blooded murder was committed with impunity.

And never mind the evidence of arson that was easily found and sourced, what’s clearly evident is the motive. The new owners of the foreclosed house immediately was trying to sell it and it’s clear that they were champing at the bit to unload it because of COVID-19 and before the eviction moratorium was ratified by state and federal law (per Centers of Disease Control). Those that remained, initially suspected and maligned as squatters even by the superintendent who was occupying a room on the first floor, probably refused to leave because of their rights to shelter in place, reasonable considering that Elmhurst was the epicenter of the epicenter of the pandemic exactly a year ago and they were in their rights to remain in the house. Despite the shutdown and new regulations to protect the public from spreading contagion, the landlord still resorted to cut off the power in the house, but was forced to restore it after the residents made a 311 complaint. As the remaining residents continued to avoid paying rent for months because of the rent moratorium, that must have been the tipping point for the LLC owners of the house.

Another mystery is how none of the footage has been publicly released, which reportedly shows a man rushing in and out of the house and a sudden burst of flames by the front door and garage. Being that we live in an age of viral video mayhem and how the NYPD usually displays security cam footage on their own twitter, it’s amazing how this one didn’t warrant the attention it would have surely got, especially from the 24/7 streaming news sites and local news stations. Something as extreme as arson and murder should have warranted national attention as well.

de Blasio’s Department Of Buildings insouciance is all over this too, for there hasn’t been a single update of violations since the murderous inferno despite the mess laying outside for passerby to see and for neighbors to tolerate.

What’s not a mystery is the way this house was run and assembled in the 2 years under the previous owner; as a boarding house for hundreds of the housing insecure because of the criminally insufficient lack of affordable housing in NYC, which was undermined by the Housing for Preservation and Development Department’s prioritizing building public housing for the upper middle class. (Although it’s also quite possible that this charred house was repurposed as a hotel also for Airbnb). 

This house must have been a sanctuary for the victims of this city’s perpetual housing crisis (especially in two terms under Mayor de Blasio), especially those working check to check and undocumented immigrants, essential workers mostly doing gig jobs delivering food or driving for apps and working construction building towers they will never afford to live in.

 Meanwhile, the suspect (or suspects considering that two other tenants that were still living there weren’t home at the time when the blaze was set off) is still at large and nothing has been updated concerning the LLC that bought the house or the landlord who was found with the incriminating evidence in his car. But the record of the homicidal zeal to get rid of the holdout residents of the Elmhurst Horror is documented in the few stories that remain about this act of literal domestic terror, which resembles in essence the gangster hit jobs in iconic scenes from movies like the Untouchables and Goodfellas.

Queens Chronicle

Moments before his home caught fire on Dec. 19, the man, who asked not to be identified, was jolted awake by a strange noise — and then thrown into darkness.The first floor tenant, who had been paying about $700 a month rent, said he and about half a dozen others living in the Elmhurst home had struggled with new landlords in recent months, claiming they wanted them out of the building — even at one point turning off the utilities.

 It was like the sound of a gas burner before it ignites, he recalled.

Because of months of collective indifference from the accounted and unaccounted authorities, the latter being our elected officials who have not even bothered to acknowledge this monstrous tragedy, and also from the absentee LLC owners of this destroyed home, the inevitability of another craven and wanton act will assuredly manifest. And they don’t even have to ditch the evidence or clean up after themselves.

If anything that confirms the allegory that evictions are violence, look no further than this homicidal pyre of the housing insecure and the ruin that still remains in plain sight and living color. And the city’s complicity in allowing this site and this black market “affordable housing” system to fester is the biggest horror of them all.

 

The Boulevard Of Zombie Condo Development

Woodside And Elmhurst, Queens, N.Y.

Remember when Queens Boulevard was called the boulevard of death? Because of the high amount of vehicular accidents that put the fear of death in pedestrians that out of necessity would dare to tread across the four lane quasi-highway? Well, it has got comparably safer to commute and cross than in the past, but it has been replaced by a new form of existential threat, and that is over-development. With this post, I bring forth three technically new buildings that have been built but have remained strangely unfinished and apparently have yet to be occupied. (But strangely they are already on the market).

Welcome to the christening of Queens Boulevard as the Boulevard Of Zombie Condo Development here in Impunity City

Your city.

Lets begin at this mesh covered monstrosity at 64th St.

 This sign has aged quite a bit, but upon closer inspection, this building was supposed to be completed a few days from now in the year 2018

Next, let’s cross the BQE and check out this budding condo building by 69th St.

Look it’s already garnering interest, but too bad the poor buyer is going to have to wait a little much longer, for this was supposed to be done in the vague completion date of Winter 2018

But the one down the block by 70th St. and Queens Blvd. is the most undead of them all.

But at least it comes with genuine street art, so the developer saves a few dollars on artwashing, avoiding to commission some bland pseudo famous graffiti tagger.

Lo, this zombie condo complex is four years behind schedule…

This building gives off quite an ghoulish aura of mystery. For who knows when construction actually started for this development and when it actually stopped. And of course why it stopped, for there is no D.O.B. certificate on it like the others and a stop work order was clearly and vainly ripped off the building placard.

To be fair and balanced here, those photos were taken in late August/early September. And some progress had occurred when I returned on a mild day just before Thanksgiving…

The mesh was taken off of the 58th building. But it still remained dormant and not a creature was stirring. Well, surely rats might be stirring in this one, they are fricking everywhere and prefer to squat in these ample abodes if they are not in a NYCHA building.

Well, most of the mesh is off. And the faded placard is still there after 3 months.

The 69th St. building was less zombiefied. For what looked like there were what I assume are contractors or realtors present.

But the zombie building on 70th is still in craptacular shape…

…and to go along with the eerie vibe when one passes by, it seems the zombie condo building has become haunted. Because some entity or apparition put up some real estate banners on some of the crappy little balconies on the higher floors.

The genuine graffiti still remains. The same tags too.

And the same placards still remain too, even the scraped stop work order wasn’t even removed by the elements or even a dabble of goo gone. Which doesn’t do much to ward off suspicion about why this building is still like this for so much time. And it’s safe to presume that there is no “affordable housing” in these complexes because the developments were initiated before de Blasio’s bullshit Housing New York program got implemented.

With the widely reported and countless updates about the dearth of affordable housing and the escalation of the homeless population, it’s shouldn’t be perplexing why these luxury condo buildings (at least what they are advertised to be) are wasting so much space without being used for so long. Another big waste is how the city gave them permits to build these zombie condos in the first place despite the need for more more housing and better quality housing for the poorest citizens of the five boroughs.

The biggest irony of all is the next big residential complex a few blocks away is the Pan American Hotel, which has operated as a homeless shelter in almost the exact amount of years has the 70 St. Zombie Condo development has been behind schedule for completion. In fact, the hotel may have started being a shelter the same exact year as the perceived schedule completion date!

Another interesting about these zombie buildings is that those bike lanes were approved and installed as these were still being constructed (except for ol’ 2015 there). Surely the city expected those residents there to be utilizing these lanes on the regular. But as those three zombie building eyesores remain lifeless, the bike lanes that were once universally rejected by the communities of Woodside and Elmhurst continue and still remain barely used and barren most of the time.

It might be apt to also call these zombie bike lanes too. Too bad this wasn’t much help for this bike shop since it got stretched to Rego Park either.

Yet still more unaffordable and unattainable condo development is still on the way on the Boulevard of Zombie Condo Development, leaving the working poor and shrinking middle class go wanting for a roof over their heads and the luxury of privacy.

This fugly zombie condo complex by the Queens Center Mall is a year late too.

Apparently, one clear reason that these buildings are taking so long to be finished is because of mandatory safety training rules that had to be made into law. Somehow they didn’t have the sense or the morals to implement these rules in the first place.

Somehow, these buildings are still just standing there unoccupied. Could be these condos are too pricey or to shitty looking to risk putting your savings in there and living in it for the rest of your life and probably too risky and not ample enough to raise a family in.

But at least the developer of this monster is showing some accountability:

It’s too bad when all of these zombie apartment buildings finally get done (with the exception of Zombie 70), they will remain lifeless. These zombie condo buildings will just sit there gathering moss and dust as the real estate market speculation/fabrication for the cost of these dwellings ludicrously rise.

These towers only reason for existence is to show that you can work in this city, but you sure as hell can’t live in it. While hundreds of thousands of citizens can barely scrape enough cash to save to transition or to make the rent where they are right now.

Which sort of makes them zombie tenants.