Friday, March 14, 2014

NEW YORK, NY 10007

CONTACT:, (212) 788-2958
No. 088


Mayor Bill de Blasio: First I want to thank all of the leaders of this administration who are here in response to this crisis. Our Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, our Housing Commissioner Vicki Been, our Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, acting Buildings Commissioner Tom Fariello, Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, OEM Commissioner Joe Bruno. All of the members of the administration who have been putting such focused efforts into helping these families that have gone through so much in the last few days. Among the elected leaders here, of course the speaker of the city council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has really been exemplary, at the front line the entire time of this crisis serving her constituents. As many of you know, she lives within blocks of the site, her district office literally around the corner from the site of this tragedy. And she has provided shelter and support for so many of her constituents and advocated so intensely for them. We want to thank you for that leadership. I want to thank Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. If there’s any other elected officials I’ve missed, people will let me know. I know I saw Senator Bill Perkins in here earlier. I want to thank our colleagues from the Salvation Army, who’ve done a fantastic job helping people in need with this shelter. I want to thank our friends from the American Red Cross that we depend on so intensely in these situations, including Josh Lockwood, the CEO for the Greater New York region for the American Red Cross, and Kelly McKinney, the chief disaster officer for the red cross of Greater New York.

We have a number of our colleagues from the real estate industry. I’m going to indicate them when we get to that section with our announcements. We want to thank all our friends from REBNY and NYSAFAH for their extraordinary efforts and support in this crisis. We’ll say more about that in a few moments.

I just have to say, walking through this shelter with Speaker Mark-Viverito, with my wife, we talked to so many people who are just grappling with the absolute dislocation of their lives. Chirlane was talking to some of the mothers, who said from their point of view the most important thing was their children were safe. But they didn’t have a home anymore, they didn’t have possessions anymore. They still were counting their blessings that their children were safe. And there’s an extraordinary spirit and will you can see when you talk to the victims of this tragedy. We made clear to them that we will stand by them every step of the way – that we will not let them fall. They’ve been through the unspeakable. And obviously we met people who have lost family members and neighbors, all in an instant with no warning. It’s our obligation as the City of New York – and I know all New Yorkers feel this way – to stand by them. To make sure that they’re helped not just now, but they’re helped to get back to their apartments wherever possible, to get back on their feet. And also to have long-term options if they’re in fact – if their apartments are now gone. So you’re going to hear more about that in a few minutes. But I have to tell you how moving it was to hear the fortitude of these folks. And they have many questions, and they have a right to have a lot of questions after all they’ve been through. And our job is to answer it. And I want to say, Speaker Mark-Viverito has been insistent in a right way that we have to get clearer and better information constantly to people.

For the folks working it here, from the Salvation Army, from the Red Cross, from all the city agencies up on the second floor, they’re doing amazing work. And they’re creating on the spot solutions for people. They’re making sure that people know that they’re going to stick with them. I talked to a lot of the individuals who have been dislocated. You can imagine their frustration, and yet they were quick to say how appreciative they were for the city agencies that were here and the other agencies that were helping them and how much they felt that the folks working on the second floor were on their side. And that is truly a blessing. So we want to make clear that we’re with these folks until everyone is accommodated for the long haul, can get fully back on their feet. Let me now offer a chance to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to offer her reflections on our visit, in both English and Spanish.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito: Thank you Mayor de Blasio. I want to thank again the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for making this facility available. And my office has been communicating extensively with all the different city agencies involved. The mayor himself has demonstrated incredible leadership by being very hands on, being on the site, being here to provide consolation to the families and to the community, to demonstrate that this is a real priority and a commitment. And all the agencies have been extremely responsive. So I really want to thank him personally for that, because it does mean a lot, to me personally, but it also means a lot to the residents of this community to know that they are not being forgotten, to know that this is being taken seriously, and to know that their concerns are being addressed to the fullest extent possible. And so, being able to come here today and talk to the families that are here–  I'm hoping to speak to more as they come back from work and school later tonight – to be able to provide them the most accurate information that the mayor will describe shortly about the accommodations, short term and long term, is important. And we want to make sure that we cut through any of the confusion, of the misinformation, and make sure that we continue to provide emotional support through very trying times. And so, people here availing themselves to emergency services – many crying, many distraught, you know, because of course, it's very devastating what has happened. But again, I want to thank the mayor for that.

Estamos aquí hoy, de una visita que hicimos adentro, hablando con diferentes familias. Y le queremos darle las gracias a la Cruz Roja y al Salvation Army por todo lo que están haciendo para darle alojo temporero a nuestra comunidad. Ha sido, obviamente, unos tiempos difíciles. Pero esta administración y este alcalde y las diferentes agencias han hecho esto una prioridad. Esta comunidad no ha sido olvidada, estamos recibiendo el apoyo, y vamos a seguir adelante para asegurar que todas las familias desalojadas consigan el apoyo necesario y el apoyo que se merecen. Así que el alcalde ahora va a hablar un poquito sobre las diferentes acomodaciones de hospedaje, y tendremos algunas preguntas más tarde.

Mayor: I want to just give you one other vignette, and then I'm going to ask Fire Commissioner Cassano to come up, and give you an update on the rescue and recovery effort. We were standing with a family, and it was a young man and his baby daughter. And we were talking to them about all they had lost, all they were trying to understand about next steps, and we said, it's, you know, are there other family members here? And he said, no they're at work today. So think about what people are going through. They've lost their home. And they've gone through such an upheaval, and yet they're going about their work life, because they don't have a choice. They have to stick with it. And they do that with such fortitude. So I hope we appreciate, I hope all our fellow New Yorkers appreciate that these folks have been through a terrifying experience, and yet they're sticking together, and they're continuing with their lives with that kind of strength, and I really admire that deeply.  Let's bring forward Commissioner Cassano to update you all.

Commissioner Sal Cassano, FDNY: Thank you Mr. Mayor. Well, right now, we are in the process of removing the final amount of debris. We have 60 to 70 percent of the debris removed. We had a report of eight people missing. We've recovered eight victims, but we're still going to treat the site like there may have been somebody in there, that was visiting, that wasn't reported missing. So we will take the debris from the area, put it on the sidewalk, examine it, before we take it to Randall's Island where the debris will be saved to do a forensics study, as part of the investigation. We will use our sonar equipment to check areas that maybe have voids in it, and there was a rear wall that was hampering some of the debris removal, which has just been taken down. So that will allow us to get the debris quicker. We're hoping that sometime tomorrow we'll have it all cleared so we can get to the basement to start our investigation – the Bureau of Fire Investigation and the Police Department's Arson and Explosion Squad will get down there, and then NTSB will do some of their investigation. But it's moving quicker now because that rear wall has been removed, and we hope to get there through midday tomorrow.

Mayor: Thank you very much. All right, let me move on now to make an announcement that's so important to those who have been displaced, either temporarily or long term. Again, once we finish this announcement, then we will welcome your questions – on this topic, obviously, only. On the topic of this tragedy, we'll welcome your questions on any of the elements of our announcements today, and the updates today.

We know it is our obligation to help people, and that includes some people who only need to be housed for a few days before they can get back in their building. And then they’re still going to need a lot of help to make sure that the other parts of their life are working as they continue to rebuild. We have other people who are going to need several months of housing, until they are in a position to go back. We have yet other people who need a permanent new solution, because bluntly – their building is gone, and they need new housing. We’re addressing that whole range of options. It’s crucial to remember that we are being led in the decisions by the work of the fire department, the buildings department, and HPD – the housing department – to make sure that each building is structurally stable, that each unit is ready to be re-inhabited. So there’s a constant effort being made to determine when people can go back into their buildings, if their building is still there. And that’s being carefully monitored. But we know we’re going to need all of these kinds of solutions for people in the meantime. And it is our obligation to provide them. So, in terms of that whole range, for people who are in shelter right now, at this facility, we will be moving in the next 24 hours. Some potentially as early as today, certainly starting on a bigger scale tomorrow – to move individuals into apartments available either through our city department of homeless services, which has over 50 apartments available in private buildings – in private buildings, units available, where non-profit agencies are involved in the management. Those units will be available starting as early as today. We’re also partnering with the YMCA to house single individuals. So those two sources will allow us to get people, by and large, quickly out of a shelter setting into an individual apartment-type setting, at least temporarily. So they’ll be in a more stable situation. 

Obviously first priority is families with young children. Then we know we are going to need solutions, as I said, for a series of months. Some families will need a few months transitionally before they are able to get back to their buildings. I’m very pleased to announce today that the Real Estate Board of New York has stepped forward with generosity and great energy. They have arranged for apartments on the East Side to be provided to displaced residents for up to three months. At this point we believe that that number of units will be at least 25 units and that’s going to provide that option up to three months nearby for families that need that assistance. I want to thank – I have to say, the Real Estate Board of New York, REBNY. REBNY stepped forward immediately, generously, energetically. They went above and beyond the call, and I want to thank them. I want to thank Rob Spire, the Chair, Steve Spinola the President of REBNY and other key players in REBNY who I've worked close with, including Harold Fetner and Neil Rubler. I'd like to thank the Stahl Organization, the Olnick Family, and the Muss Development Company. All of them stepped, up ready to serve people in need and I think that that's something New Yorkers should feel appreciative of. And then, there are folks who need a permanent option, who need a new place to go and live because their building is gone. And once again, we saw an energetic, proactive effort by the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing, otherwise known as NYSAFAH. They have gotten together with their member firms and nonprofits. They have a number of units in and around East Harlem. They're joining with us to provide permanent options and, if needed, temporary options to families who have been displaced. I want to thank the President Don Capoccia, the Vice President Lisa Gomez, who are with us and are stepping up.

So this means, whatever a family needs as a result of this crisis, we have an option for them. And we're going to put those options into play right away. This is the kind of situation which New Yorkers step up and help each other. REBNY's done that, NYSAFAH has done that. They're coming forward in people's hour of need. They're bringing real solution with us. We don't want a situation where parents, especially with young children, are wondering where they're going to be staying. We want to answer those questions immediately and because of the generosity of these organizations, we will be able to. There's one thing that we need people to do, and I'd like the speaker to say this before we take questions. The speaker will say this also in Spanish. Any family displaced who has not yet registered for help – we need them to do so. We know a number of families have registered for help, but we also know that there may be dozens that are not. We can’t get them all the help they deserve unless they register. So we please need the help of all of our friends in the media to get out that message. Any family displaced by this crisis needs to register for help. They can do that here at this center, so we can get them the help right away.  Let me let the speaker repeat that in Spanish, and then we’ll take questions.

Speaker Mark-Viverito: Es importante por favor que los medios nos ayuden. Hay familias en los edificios impactados. Los edificios donde hubo la destrucción de esos dos edificios, pero también en aquellos edificios que han sido evacuados. Hay familias que no se han inscrito con la ciudad. Tenemos muchas familias, más de – decenas de familias que no se han inscrito con la ciudad para recibir el apoyo necesario. Así que, cuando estamos hablando ahora de diferentes opciones disponibles para alojamiento, o sea permanente o sea temporero, es importante que nosotros tengamos la información de las personas que han vivido o viven en esos edificios, para que podamos darle la asistencia necesaria. Así que cualquier persona que este escuchando, que haya vivido en los edificios que fueron evacuados, que hayan vivido en los edificios que han sido destruidos, es importante que por favor se comuniquen con la ciudad y se inscriban para que reciban el alojamiento necesario, pero también, los servicios necesarios hacia adelante. Así que gracias.

Mayor: Clarify that they need to sign up in person here today and starting tomorrow en La Marqueta.

Speaker Mark-Viverito: Así que, las personas que necesitas inscribirse tienen que venir personalmente aquí, a este local. Vamos a estar aquí hasta mañana. Empezando mañana, el local va a cambiar, el local se va a encontrar en La Marqueta. La dirección es el 1580 de Park Avenue, entre la 114 y la 116. Que por favor la gente venga aquí, o vaya – empezando mañana – a La Marqueta en el 1580 de Park Avenue.

Mayor: Thank you, I just want to say this now, just to clarify. Anyone, any family that has been displaced that has not yet registered – today, for the remainder of today, the ideal is to register today so that we can start getting them help immediately. So any family who has not registered should come today here to the Salvation Army Center, 115 East 125th. Starting tomorrow, and continuing thereafter, the site for registering will be at La Marqueta, which is an East Harlem landmark. La Marqueta, 1580 Park Avenue at 115th Street. With that, we welcome your questions. Yes, sir?

Question: I have a question in English and in Spanish if you can give us the answer. Consulate officials in the Mexican consulate say that there’s about 30 Mexican nationals that were directly involved or affected in this. Is the city working with the Mexican officials to try to get them to register? En español.

Mayor: Alright, you start.

Speaker Mark-Viverito: Bueno, de parte de mi oficina – la alcaldía puede hablar de su parte – pero yo y mi oficina hemos recibido alguna información y también estamos comunicándonos con el consulado. En estos tiempos, como entendemos, ha habido unas familias también fallecidas. Y estamos tratando de ayudarlos a conseguir asistencia para el funeral. Pero también aquí ayer, habían representantes del cónsul, y estábamos hablando un poquito sobre la importancia de culminar esfuerzos, de proveer asistencia mental, psicológica, para las personas impactadas. Eso ha sido el extenso de mi conversación con ellos. Al nivel de la ciudad, no sé. El alcalde creo que va a contestar esa pregunta.

Mayor: Yeah, so just to clarify that answer. So I want to emphasize point one that we talked about yesterday: anyone, regardless of nationality or citizenship, regardless of documentation status, will be helped equally. And anyone who happens to be undocumented can feel safe and secure coming in and getting support. I know Melissa’s office is working – reaching out to the consulate. We will make sure that our Office of Emergency Management reaches out as well.

Question: Are we under the impression now that all eight victims whose bodies [inaudible] or looked for that we haven’t found [inaudible]?

Mayor: Let me ask Sal.

Commissioner Cassano: We’ve identified the reported people that are missing. But as I said, until we clear all of the debris out, we’re going to treat it as if there may be somebody that has not been reported missing.

Question: But as of now, you feel you have [inaudible]?

Commissioner Cassano: Yes, yes.

Question: And the eighth person has been identified? 

Commissioner Cassano: Yes.

Question: [inaudible]

Commissioner Cassano: No.

Question: Commissioner, could you describe to us what the challenges right now are in clearing all that debris in the street?

Commissioner Cassano: Yeah, well the biggest challenge for us was getting rid of that rear wall. That’s been taken down in the last hour or so. Now we can get that grappler closer to the middle of the building line, take the rest of the debris out, and then clean it out. And that was the biggest challenge was that rear wall. That was the biggest obstacle. We should be moving much more quickly now.

Question: [inaudible]

Commissioner Cassano: Well we – all the gas is shut off. There is no gas, there’s no trace of gas, but we still need to get to the basement to try to find the cause and origin. Yes, Rich?

Question: [inaudible] the rubble will be taken to a certain place and examined and [inaudible]?

Commissioner Cassano: Well it’ll be part of the investigation. We may need to get [inaudible], that’s why it’s not being taken any place but Randall’s Island. It’s being stored in a parking lot there until we feel we don’t need to use it anymore.

Question: As of early this morning, [inaudible]?

Commissioner Cassano: We’ve identified them, yes.

Question: Mr. Mayor –

Mayor: Hold on. Kate.

Question: Is there any evidence that there was an illegal gas [inaudible] in the kitchen, in the basement of 1644 Park Avenue? Is that being considered?

Commissioner Cassano: We haven’t gotten into the basement yet, that’s why as soon as we get all the debris out, we’re going to send our marshals down. And we’ll examine any possible reason why A, there was a gas leak if there was, and why it ignited.

Question: So what do you look for [inaudible]

Commissioner Cassano: Well we’ll look at a meter, for sure. Con Ed will come, we’ll look at the meters. The meters will be pulled. We’ll look for breaks in piping. We’ll look for sources of ignition, whether it was light switches down there, different things like that.

Question: [inaudible]

Commissioner Cassano: Yeah, yeah. Our marshals are good.

Mayor: Let me say this, again, emphasize that it’s an ongoing investigation. It’s going to be done very meticulously. So I expect people will be asking for specifics and what we’re going to be doing to make sure that we have very precise information before we report on the state of that investigation.

Question: In terms of the relocation, how many people do you know of that need housing assistance? How many people are displaced? What’s the number?

Mayor: Let me turn to – let me see if we know on the housing assistance. Vicki, come on up. The number we know of – this is our housing commissioner, HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. The number that we know of who need housing assistance right now.

Commissioner Vicki Been, HPD: So about 55 families have registered. We don’t know how many of those will need the different kinds of help. But about 55 have registered, indicating that they need help.

Question: Do you know how many individuals total that is?

Commissioner Been: I think it’s around 100 adults and children, but I don’t know the exact numbers.

Commissioner Been: I'm sorry there are 55 families that have registered probably over 100 people.
Mayor: So 55 families with over 100 people, we’ll try and get you a more precise answer. But again, remember, as I said, some only need very temporary help, some who need permanent housing so a real bandwidth there.
Question: To clarify, these are people who live in the adjacent buildings that can’t get back in?
Mayor: You have everything from folks who were displaced from the two buildings destroyed, to people in adjacent buildings who can't get back in yet. Some may get back in in a matter of days. Some it may be a longer period of time. That is why we’re going need all of those options to serve them. Yes? Media question? For the media?
Question: [inaudible]
Mayor: Okay, hold on brother one second. Yes, in the back.
Question: Yes, Mayor, you mentioned earlier that when you were doing the tour that the victims had some questions. Did any of them ask you about the status of the investigation and where things are moving forward on that end?
Mayor: No the concerns, the concerns the families have are for their family members, their children to get the help they need right now. I -
Question: Did the question of how this happened ever come up?
Mayor: Not in the conversation today. Not with anyone I have spoke to since this tragedy begun. They're focused on the here and now getting the help they need and the help for their families.
Question: [inaudible] Commissioner, you’ve indicated that they have removed about 65 percent to 75 percent of the debris. Approximately how many days do you figure before you can actually get into the foundation of the building and underneath it to examine those pipes?
Commissioner Cassano: We hope to get there midday tomorrow.
Question: [inaudible] Are you hearing anything about ambulance-chasers?
Mayor: I have not heard that. No, we're not hearing any report like that. Let me ask Rob Spire and Don Cappocia to come up for a second. I just want to bring them forward before we take the final questions. I just want to thank again on behalf, come forward one second Don.
Don Capoccia, President of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing: Sure.
Mayor: Don Capoccia, New York State Association for Affordable Housing and Ron Spire, the Chair of the Real Estate Board of New York. Just want to thank them again profoundly for putting forward so many units that people need. Now, I want to say again, one of our greatest concerns in this situation is that we needed units near the neighborhood. Something Speaker Mark-Viverito has talked about repeatedly reminding everyone. People need the support of their family, their friends nearby, their houses of worship. They need their children to stay in the same school. So it's so crucially important to have locations nearby for those who have been – have lost their permanent housing. So important to be able to stay in their neighborhood. Because of these two gentlemen and their organization, that's going to be possible. So I want to say thank you again on behalf of the people of the city for stepping forward and making that possible for these families who are going through so much. Yes?
Question: Two questions. Is it 15 or 25 apartments? You said its 25. Its 15 in here. Has it been increased?
Mayor: We are checking our deputy mayor behind us says we think that number has gone up from 15 to 25 is that accurate?
Capoccia: Yes.
Mayor: Yes, we’re up to 25 now.
Question: Okay, and where in the neighborhood is it? Here in East Harlem or is it farther south or farther north?
Mayor: Here please -
Capoccia: We now have 34 –  
Mayor: The number has gone up again! That's a good thing.
Capoccia: Among our membership and we'll do what we need to do to be helpful
Mayor: I'll repeat it.
Question: Have you ever done anything like this before where you have donated – 
Capoccia: You know we were asked yesterday by the mayor and his administration and I think the 13,000 members of REBNY want to do whatever we can to be helpful.
Question: But have you ever done anything like this before?
Capoccia: You know we're a very philanthropic industry. We try to help where we can: 9/11, Sandy, other tragedies like that. But we're really thinking about the victims from this week's tragedy and their families and the displaced families. And we’re going to do whatever we can to be helpful.
Mayor: So let me just report Don. Hang on. Just to clarify over here too. So the number of units from REBNY now is 34 units. That's an upgrade. 34 units are making available in and around this area. Now to Don.
Capoccia: Yeah, sure. Yeah our members are getting us reports to managers every hour where we've gotten another unit in the last couple of minutes. Our units are on 1st Avenue and 100th Street, some just off of 134th Street, East 130th Street, and NYSAFAH worked with the city closely after Sandy to put together a similar kind of protocol to identify available units.
Mayor: So again, the NYSAFAH units in the – very much the immediate area, including the permanent long-term units. We have time for a couple more if we have – yes?
Question: This community is already hurting for affordable housing. Have you been talking about – I know that some folks will be getting apartments in the next couple of days, but are you already looking into a [inaudible] for people who are displaced? Like in Hurricane Sandy [inaudible], people had to move out of hotels, they had to move out of apartments. Are you looking into any long-term plans for a few months down the line when they’d have to move out of those apartments?

Mayor: Well I want to – I understand the different pieces of the question, but I have to separate them a little bit. The – what we’re talking about here will accommodate everyone who has been displaced temporarily and everyone who has been displaced in terms of their permanent housing. The numbers we’re talking about here, between the city efforts and the private sector efforts, will accommodate all of them. So we can say that safely now. This has been an extraordinary effort. I want to thank our Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen for having led the way – our Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development in bringing together all of these players to make sure we could do this. The second part of your question refers to our affordable housing situation overall. I don’t want to get into a lot of details, we obviously have a very aggressive plan to create 200,000 units of affordable housing. This is one of the neighborhoods that desperately needs it, so it will be one of the focal points. Jim?

Question: Mr. Mayor, you’ve expressed that justifiable admiration for the people who went to work despite the fact that their housing has fallen down. What would you say to those bosses? Would you say give them a break? How about giving them a day off or…  

Mayor: Look, I think it is – I would say it’s a little more complicated. I think for some people, going to their workplace might be therapeutic too. For some kids, certainly going to a school might be therapeutic. So I think it depends on the individual. Obviously, any individual that is going through a lot right now and needs a few days off, I would expect their employers would be sensitive to that. But what I was so struck by is just the resolve that people have to keep going, no matter what’s thrown at them. And I just want to say again, I think a lot of you have seen the site and seen how our first responders have handled this. Just exemplary. Extremely difficult, complicated situation, and our first responders did an extraordinary, professional job. And they were able to do a lot to help people even in this adverse situation. Last call, yes?

Question: Are you concerned about the pace of gas main replacements in the city now? Do you have any new concerns about that?

Mayor: Look, we talked yesterday about our aging infrastructure. It’s something we have to stay ahead of in every way we can. I think the important points here are that we are going to – whenever we know of a specific problem – make sure that there’s a fast response. Again, emphasizing, it is crucially important for the people of this city to always inform us through 311 if there’s a gas leak. If you get it to 311, that is the fastest way to get action. But that’s true, by the way, of a lot of other problems that we can act on if we have the information. So I think it’s fair to say we have an extraordinarily professional apparatus for dealing with a problem once we know it’s there. We also have a huge infrastructure challenge. And within the resources we have, we’re going to address it. I said yesterday, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the difference between New York City on its own versus if the federal government was truly our partner. But within all the resources we have, we’re going to constantly address our infrastructure challenges. Thank you everyone.            
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