READY TO ROLL AT PATERSON RIVERSIDE STATION - PHOTO BY DR. THOMAS DAYSPRING

READY TO ROLL AT PATERSON RIVERSIDE STATION - PHOTO BY DR. THOMAS DAYSPRING

Thursday, September 15, 2016

HOBOKEN ARSON


Photos: Hoboken Historical Museum
121 Clinton St., Hoboken


More than 40 people died in suspicious tenement fires in Hoboken between between March 1978 and November 1981, the deadliest taking 21 lives at 121 Clinton St. on Jan. 21, 1979.

The city was also the scene of a suspicious hotel fire that claimed 12 lives on April 30, 1982.

Hudson County prosecutor Harold Ruvoldt said fires were set for profit and revenge.

Most, if not all, were never solved.

In a letter published in the Dec. 13, 1981 edition of The New York Times, a Hoboken resident named Diane M. Camilleri, wrote:

Until several years ago, Hoboken was a stable, ethnically diverse working-class city. The original influx of more-affluent people from outside Hoboken led to the renovation of many small buildings in certain areas of the city, usually for the purchaser's own residence.

More recently, however, large real-estate interests and developers seem to have taken over gentrification; wholesale renovations and condominium conversions are occurring. Apparently not satisfied with the pace of evicting the poor, there has been a recent major increase in tenant harassment and arson.

Hoboken's arson rate over the last few years has been staggering for a small city. In the last month and a half alone, there have been 13 deaths in two arson fires. One building, in which 11 people, mostly Hispanic, died as a result of arson, is next to a group of buildings soon to be offered for sale as condominiums. This burnedout building was bought by the same developer who owns the adjacent condominiums.


The arson on Nov. 21 killed two people and displaced more than 60 others, who were then moved out of Hoboken. Among those 60 were some victims of the previous recent arsons who were being ''temporarily'' housed there. That building was bought in October by a real-estate developer.
The coincidence between these buildings being targeted for renovation or condominium conversion and the arsons is suspicious. Arson appears to be a convenient way to acquire a building with no tenants to force out by less-drastic, and therefore slower, methods.
Arson is only the most tragic and dramatic method of displacement. Tenant harassment has been occurring for some time: Phony eviction notices, applications for enormous hardship and capital-improvement rent increases, illegal raising of rents, delaying needed repairs, etc.