State establishes $425,000 loan fund for businesses hurt by East Harlem Explosion

State establishes $425,000 loan fund for businesses hurt by East Harlem Explosion

State officials have created a new loan fund to aid small businesses impacted by the March 12th gas explosion in East Harlem.

The East Harlem Small Business Emergency Loan Program will distribute $425,000 in individual loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses and non-profits that suffered damage as a result of the blast, Gov. Cuomo announced Wednesday.

“New Yorkers come together in times of hardship, and today we are doing just that,” Cuomo said. “These loans will help small business owners impacted by March’s tragic explosion get back on their feet, and I am proud that the state is joining with our local partners to support their recovery and make this program a reality.”

The program is being funded through a $100,000 state grant, $125,000 from the Harlem Community Development Corporation, a $100,000 grant from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, and $100,000 in private donations raised by Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez.

To be eligible, applicants must be located between East 115th Street and East 118th Street; and between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue. They must also have been in operation on March 11, 2014 – the before the explosion – and have been registered with the state as a legally established business or not-for-profit.
Johnnie Stevens


East Harlem Is Facing More Than Just Gas Leaks


If the March 12th explosion was anything, it was an amplifier of problems already facing the often neglected community. The cast iron gas main believed to be the culprit in the explosion shares a lot in common with the social problems of residents above it: both have been ignored for decades, and the government is showing little intention of addressing either. Homelessness, unemployment, and covered up abuses are far too common in the world above Yorkville.

Proesters in solidarity with victims of the East Harlem explosion protest outside Con Edison's annual shareholder meeting, May 19th 2014

“A tragedy like this is more likely to happen among working class neighborhoods and where Black, Latino, Asian and poor people live,” said one attendant at a previous Con Edison protest in Harlem on March 28, according to The Final Call. Indeed, activists today seem concerned with how reminiscent the circumstances surrounding the East Harlem explosion are of prior tragedies at places with similar demographics. Residents, some who moved to New York from Louisiana, tell tales of similar patterns of neglect after Hurricane Katrina and warn of the selective rejuvenation that followed.

Lost access to the East Harlem community, if it isn’t already happening, isn’t a far fetched fear with the climate of gentrification being experienced in the neighborhood. That’s why protesters are keeping their demands focused on the health of the community and the welfare of victims and neighbors. They’ve agreed that the first step to keeping recovery centered on community progress lies in having the NTSB, the primary federal investigator of the incident, open a public hearing that would put on record the needs of survivors, neighbors, and small businesses owners impacted by the explosion.

Beyond the call for a hearing, activists remain unsure of what the best direction is for moving the community forward. As The Final Call notes, “a 2012 report from a federal agency… warned many of these deteriorating gas lines [such as the one believed to have caused the March 12th explosion] lie beneath streets in older high density urban areas.” Up to 30% of the gas mains under NYC are cast iron, according to agency data cited by The Final Call. Yet, replacing gas mains can be a costly process for both residents and Con Edison. According to one source, the utility monopoly has said it could cost billions to replace pipes across the City. And the lost foot traffic for East Harlem businesses shortly after the explosion could become the norm for some time if a neighborhood-wide pipe replacement campaign is started.

Protesters aren’t ready to let Con Edison off the hook so easily though. Along with the public hearing, they are demanding further investigation of Con Edison’s culpability in the explosion. Repeatedly cited is CEO John McAvoy’s nearly $3 million compensation packagelast year, over $900k of it provided in cash. Many are curious to what degree profit-seeking behavior influenced Con Edison’s decision-making as far as taking steps to prevent the lethal disaster.

A Google image of the buildings at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, destroyed in the East Harlem explosion on March 12, 2014

Regardless of the options popularly discussed in reports following the incident, creativity hasn’t been lost among those in solidarity with East Harlem’s residents. Activists are evaluating a range of ideas and strategies that could move the neighborhood forward in terms of employment, affordable housing, and green technology. A solution that would benefit all the community’s stakeholders, hold Con Edison justly accountable, and receive the support of the City government seems to be everyone’s goal.

For now, the biggest challenge is making sure an explosion two months ago, affecting mostly low income residents of color, isn’t forgotten. Some see the catastrophic results of neglected infrastructure as the gateway to reversing a culture of neglect East Harlem residents have experienced for too long.

Struggle after East Harlem gas explosion isn’t over.

The Final Call
April 29, 2014
Page 9

by Saeed Shabazz, Staff Writer


One month after a 127 year old natural gas pipeline exploded in East Harlem, killing eight people, reportedly injuring and leaving hundreds homeless, actviists are concerned that things will only get worse in New York City.

“We are concerned not just because the existing cast iron pipeline is old, but the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg, signed a law that all apartment buildings must convert to natural gas by 2015 and that presents a serious danger,” Larry Littman, an environmental and housing activist told the Final Call.

ImageOn March 28th, activists representing the Chelsea Housing Coalition, People’s Power Assembly, Occo-Evolve, May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrants Rights and Parents to Improve School Transportation held a protest in front of the Harlem office of Consolidated Edison, the gas company that owns and maintains the pipeline.

The protestors said gas explosions don’t happen in the more affluent neighborhoods.

A tragedy like this is more likely to happen among working class neighborhoods and where Black, Latino, Asian and poor opeople live,” protestors said.

A 2012 report from a federal aagency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, warned many of these deteriorating gaslines lie beheath streets in older high density urban areas.

According to agency data, the highest percentages of cast iron gas mains are in such cities as Philadelphis, with 50 percent, Boston, with 33 percent, and New York with 30 percent. The federal agency also listed 34 other states with obsolete cast iron lines. Some analysts say cast iron and wrought iron pipes are vulnerable to corrosion and should be replaced with polyetherene plastic pipe.

Observers say pipeline safety in the United States jas omcreased om recemt decades, but incidents involving natural gas pipelines still canse an average 17 fatalities and $133 million in property damage annually.
President Obana, according to activists, has taken note of the problem and issued March 28th a Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, with a proposal in the 2015 federal budget for a $4.7 million program to develop technologies for leak detection and monitoring pipeline leak repairs.

Betsy Petite, a Philadelphis-based grassroots environmental justice advocate and an editor for Workers World Newspaper, told The Final Call there is a “pipeline break every day” in the U.S.particularly in the neighorhoods where people are not aware of what is being pumped under their streets.

“We are aware that regulations controlling the gas energy industry have been changing over the last three or four years but the information is not being connected to the problem in the urban areas, it gets buried,” Ms. Petite said.

Kim Fraxzek, coordinator for the New York-based Sane Energy Project, agrees Harlem residents are not aware of things such as a natural gas pipeline that runs from New Jersey, connecting at 135th Street.

Mr. Littman argues that the pipeline issue must be linked to the larger housing problem facing poor and low income New Yorkers. “Con Ed says that it would take three decades at a cost of $40 billion to replace the old pipeline in New York City, but in the meantime landlords are passing on the cost of the oiler conversion to rent-stabilized tenants, adding $100 a month to their rent,” he said.

This creates situations of incredible pressure for people on fixed incomes verses landlords who want to see higher paying tenants in their buildings,” said Msw Fraczek said.

Organizations that sponsored the recent protest want the National Transportation Safety Board to hold a community hearing and examine the environmental consequences of outdated pipelines.

In the meantime the NTSB removed a section of the pipeline found under the ground where the two buildings collapsed for further examination. Com Ed directed all media questions to the NTSB’s Washington D.C. office.


East Harlem, N.Y., explosion highlights criminal neglect – Take Action

By LeiLani Dowell on March 17, 2014

New York – Another capitalist atrocity against the poor and people of color occurred in the neighborhood of East Harlem, N.Y., on March 12, when an explosion ripped through two tenement buildings, killing eight people, injuring more than 50 others and leveling the buildings to the ground. As of March 17, several residents of 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue were still missing, while some survivors remain in critical condition at hospitals.

This area of the city is known as “El Barrio” for the large Latino/a population that lives there. In the past 15 years, the block where the blasts occurred had been built up with a number of subsidized housing complexes. One of the buildings in particular was a sort of community center, housing the Spanish Christian Church and members of its congregation.

Clearly the city has neglected this poor, people of color community in terms of needed infrastructure upgrades. Constructed in 1887, the gas main that served the two buildings was 127 years old and made of cast iron, a material that is known for becoming brittle and prone to leaks. Area residents were essentially sitting on a time bomb, created by government and gas industry indifference.

Tests conducted in the hours after the blast showed that the concentration of natural gas in the area was as high as 20 percent, when it should have been at zero. While residents had been complaining for weeks about a gas smell, Con Edison CEO John McAvoy claims that the agency checked the area for gas leaks as early as Feb. 28 and found none. (New York Daily News, March 15)

Johnnie Stevens from the People’s Power Assembly and Rosa María de la Torre of the Chelsea Coalition on Housing went to the East Harlem neighborhood on March 16 to meet with the community and hand out leaflets for a March 19 meeting organized by the Coalition.

Stevens told WW: “I spoke with a Black man who raised gentrification, as is happening in Brooklyn. Many justifiably fear that, as happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, real estate vultures — with the support of the government — will use the ‘opportunity’ of this disaster to push the poorer residents of the community out of the area.”

Of the two buildings that collapsed, the New York Times suggested that they were “little-changed in a neighborhood that has been rapidly modernizing … the opposite of an anonymous New York City high rise.” (March 13)

New York City is a city run in many ways by the real estate industry. As million-dollar condominiums sprout up throughout Manhattan, and even spread throughout the five boroughs, more and more New Yorkers are displaced to the farthest reaches of the city and beyond — or left homeless. Enormous amounts of money are spent on these new developments while the most meagre of funds are allocated for essential infrastructure upgrades, especially in the poorest communities.

Con Ed’s criminal collusion

In order to pave the way for higher rents and elite residences, lower-income housing units are allowed to deteriorate to unsafe conditions, particularly in New York’s communities of color. In February, the New York Times reported on a group of tenants in Bushwick, Brooklyn, who had been living for eight months in rubble after the landlord of the rent-stabilized building had workers take a sledgehammer to the kitchens and bathrooms of several apartments. (Feb. 24) Seen in this context, Con Edison’s deadly neglect of the gas lines in East Harlem reveals a racist, anti-poor collusion of the agency with the city’s biggest capitalists.

In 2008, one of the buildings that exploded on March 12 was cited for having cracks that were “hazardous for the safety of the structure.” Those cracks were never fixed. (New York Magazine, March 13)

Surviving residents of the area are now struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together. Many are living in shelters, gyms and other temporary housing. While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that 20 units of housing will be made available to those who were permanently displaced, a total of 91 apartments were evacuated from the area, and some 55 families have already registered for housing assistance.

Stevens also reported that “Rosa María met several families who were in the exploded buildings or in nearby public housing. They complained about breathing problems and chest pain. A mother said they should pass out ventilation equipment like they did after 9/11. She reported that the dust on her walls, the Long Island Rail Road and the subway structure pillars was thick and black.”

The community has rallied together to support each other. The New York Times reports that a tamale vendor was handing out tamales to displaced residents. A community center has started a drive for clothing and other much-needed supplies.

A community meeting was held March 15 to discuss the city’s response to the disaster and the potential of filing a class-action lawsuit against the city. However, Con Edison should be charged with criminal neglect of the poorest communities in New York.

The manmade March 12 disaster highlights the lack of needed infrastructure upgrades throughout the country. A leak in a cast-iron gas pipeline in Philadelphia led to an explosion that killed a utility worker and injured five others in January of 2011. A month later, an explosion due to a faulty cast-iron gas main in Allentown, Pa., killed five people. The Huffington Post reports that nearly a third of the gas lines in Washington, D.C., and Boston are made of cast iron, and nearly half in Philadelphia.

In New York, a whopping 60 percent of the gas pipelines operated by Con Edison are made of unprotected steel or cast iron. (March 13) While efforts are underway to replace these pipelines with ones made of safer materials, these efforts are being done at a snail’s pace.

Sara Flounders of the International Action Center in New York says: “At a time when these very communities suffer from the effects of unemployment, a demand to fix the infrastructure could mean the creation of jobs at union pay. However, these efforts must happen under community control, lest they serve as a cover for community removal and further gentrification.”

The CCH leaflet states: “What happened on [March 12] in El Barrio is a disaster that unfortunately can easily reoccur anywhere in our City. Chelsea Coalition on Housing sees this situation as an attack on the poor, our communities of color and all working-class tenants. … We need to stop the war on the poor and fight for safe and affordable housing for all!” For more information, visit

Daytime Organizing Meeting


La Casa Azul

143 E 103rd St.
New York City


La Casa Azul Bookstore on E. 103 near Lexington in East Harlem is hosting a daytime organizing meeting in anticipation of the Con Ed shareholders meeting.

Thursday May 15 at 2pm.

There is room for 30 people who are free in the day and willing to post flyers and tell people about the importance of a strong community involvement to prevent future disasters caused by leaky old gas mains.

Con Edison’s 2014 annual shareholders’ meeting will be held on Monday, May 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m., 4 Irving Place, New York, New York 10003.

We want to create a presence they cannot ignore. We need to reach beyond the traditional activist community to include the everyday people who trust Con Edison to provide safe and reliable service.  Without our commanding presence at that meeting site, they may decide the issue is safe to ignore or postpone, or make us pay for it so as not to impact their blood-money “profits.”




New Yorkers in Solidarity with the Survivors and Community of East Harlem and EL Barrio

We are an Ad: Hoc Coalition of tenants , advocates , environmental and civil rights groups. We demand the National Transportation Safety Board ( NTSB) use it authority to call for a public hearing in East Harlem for the community, its residents and small business to determine what is needed for the survivors and community of March 12 gas explosion in East Harlem, and what must be done to prevent such a disaster and its accompanying displacement from recurring.


These are the facts so far:

  1. The Con Ed gas main was installed in 1887 and is made of brittle cast iron.  Why were repairs neglected and wha t is being done now to insure that there are no more explosions?
  2. Con Ed CEO John McAvoy made at least $9 million in salary last year.  What has he done to deserve this?
  3. Con Ed paid out $1.06 billion in profit dividends last year.  Con Ed claims it needs to keep stockholders happy and only spends 1/10 of this amount on repairs.  But what about the communities Con Ed is supposed to serve?  Aren’t we more important?
  4. The National Transit Safety Board is investigating the explosion, but a spokesperson admitted that their recommendations usually take a year or more, and this agency has no legal authority whatever.  But it does have the authority to call for public hearings.  Isn’t that what we need now?



  • Families affected are still suffering from homelessness and neglect!  We need to hear from the community where the disaster happened and find out what housing and services are needed.
  • To investigate the liability of Con Ed in this disaster.  Could this have been prevented?  What is Con Ed doing now to prevent future disasters?   Are they doing all they can to make restitution to the community?
  • What is the impact on small businesses?
  • With unemployment so high in the neighborhood,  Con Ed needs to hire unemployed workers from the community and pay for whatever job training is needed.
  • We need an independent environmental impact study.  Was fracking a factor?
  • Con Ed claims that repairs and clean up will raise rates, but this is another fraud.    With over $1 billion in profits, Con Ed cannot  be allowed to put the cost of clean-up on the public.