Burning House


Location Bronx (northeast)

Rent $1,487 (Section 8 subsidized housing; tenant pays $86)

Square feet 1,050 (floor of two-family house)

Occupants Stephanie Brown (parent mentor, Good Shepherd Services); Shana Brown (19, student, BMCC); Walter Brown III (18, student, Manhattan Career); Stefon Bland (student, C.S. 134)

You have been in six apartment fires. [Stephanie] We got burned out June 25, in the South Bronx, the Southview area. I was living there for six years. Everyone was out. I was at work. My grandson was at a doctor’s appointment. What didn’t get destroyed by fire got destroyed by soot and water. It was an electrical fire. That’s all we know. The landlord was very rude and snotty to us. He didn’t even come to see if anybody got hurt. You have landlords and you have slumlords.

I was in previous fires when I was little. I remember all of them. I was four years old, living in Bed-Stuy, Lexington Avenue. Kids were playing with a match. They threw it into an electrical socket, burned the whole building down. We got out just in time, four families. Then they fixed the building and there was another fire. The third was when I was eight, also in Brooklyn. Oh God, what do they call them? I think something happened in the vents. Nobody got hurt. A couple of apartments got destroyed. The fourth was 150th Street in Harlem. Somebody fell asleep with a cigarette. It was the apartment right next to us. Three families got burned out. A burning mattress is no joke. It burns slow.

The fifth fire was in ’91. I’m a recovering addict. I have 14 years clean. I had two years clean then. I was living at 127th in Harlem. It was drug-dealer-infested. The whole building got burned out, five floors, four families on each floor. The addicts were getting high. Who knows how it started. The building was old. A hot match probably would have set it off. I wasn’t at home. I was at a meeting. The kids weren’t with me. They were in care, kinship care. Three of my friends were living with me, my father-in-law. He got housing quickly because he was a senior. I went with Red Cross. They put you up for seven days, a hotel on 76th and Amsterdam. Then they put me in this shelter, 136th Street, for two months, until I started raising hell. It was a lot of addicts, unisex, had to use the same bathroom. They wanted to put me into an all-women’s shelter. I just went off: I’m not having any more shelters and I’m going to tear up your place and I want my place. That’s when they put me into NYC public housing.

The latest fire, I was coming from a friend of mine’s anniversary. My kids were outside. When I went to get out of the car, they said, “Mommy, Mommy, don’t get upset.” You know, I have a very bad temper. I saw the landlord on the stoop. I looked up, no windows, no lights, no nothing. Flashlights searching around. It was disgusting. They sent me to HPD. They were going to put me in a shelter, emergency assistance unit. No way! I wasn’t going in. I’ve got family and friends, thank God. I just got this place in October. It’s nice but it’s isolated, too quiet. All of us are bored here, even my grandson. The South Bronx, I loved it, I really wanted to stay. The apartments available there were dumps. Since I’ve had Section 8, I’ve never had dumpy apartments. I tried so hard to get in an apartment building. But most Section 8 apartments I saw were in houses. But I saw the kitchen here. I told the landlord, “Can I please, please have the apartment? Here’s my packet.”

I’ve got a fiancé. He’s a security guard. We met in a laundromat seven years ago. I was working in a laundromat across from the PJ’s—the projects—Martin Luther King Towers. Yes, we’ll get married. I want four bridesmaids, a matron of honor, a maid of honor, four groomsmen, two flower girls, two ring bearers, a junior bride and groom. I told him, “No shorts!”

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