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Kin of slain Flushing man face eviction

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It has been more than five months since her father was bludgeoned to death with a cobblestone in the lobby of his Flushing apartment building, more than five months without any arrests in the case, more than five months of subsisting on donations from Korean Americans who have read or heard about their plight.

Little has changed for the Lees since Jim Rong Lee, a 46-year-old Korean immigrant, a husband and father of four, was savagely attacked in his apartment building by two teenagers in September. The children and Lee’s wife, Moung Sun, still live on the fifth floor of the Flushing building, a haunting reminder of how he was left for dead in the lobby. They have no income, have not paid rent in five months, and must soon appear in court to fight an eviction notice.

“It’s so horrible when you walk into the building,” said Sung Sin, Lee’s 17-year-old daughter, in an interview Monday. “As time goes by, people tend to forget, and that is better for us.”

Lee was a taciturn man, though never loath to show affection for his children and his wife. He emigrated from Korea in 1993, arriving in Flushing, and was received by a Korean pastor who put him up in a church until he found a job. His family soon followed him.

The Lees had tried to open a restaurant in the Bronx, but that venture failed. So Lee did the next best thing: he took a job at a Korean restaurant in Manhattan.

The long and late hours that he worked would contribute in part to his death on Sept. 23. As usual, Lee was returning home around 1 a.m. He opened the first of two glass doors to his apartment building on 147th Street, and then the second. Behind him were two teenagers, wearing doo rags, one holding aloft a 10-pound cobblestone that would soon come crashing down on his head.

Lee wasn’t robbed — he had $1.50 and a MetroCard in his pocket, when he was found lying listlessly on the floor of his lobby. Lee was brought to the hospital by ambulance, where he died of head injuries three days later.

The family’s only source of income came from Lee. His 44-year-old wife, Moung Sun, cannot work because she is a diabetic and her condition is worsening, Sung Sin said. For now, they have been eking out an existence on donations provided by readers of Korean newspapers and listeners of Korean radio shows, two media outlets where Sung Sin has told her family’s story.

But philanthropy has its limits. For one thing, it does not guarantee that the bills will be paid, although so far the Lees have managed to squeeze by. Sung Sin is the only one holding down a job: she tutors students four to five hours a day. She does this after her day is over at Flushing High School, where she is a senior, using whatever she earns to pay off her day-to-day expenses.

Her brother, Sung Su, 19, just lost a job as a salesmen at a cell phone store. Sung Sin’s sisters, Eun Young, 21, and Bo Young, 22, are both college students and do not have time to work.

Without an income, unable to pay their rent, the Lees are left to grapple with the prospect of imminent eviction. Public housing is one alternative they are exploring, and another option is publicly subsidized rent, said Luther Mook, a civic activist assisting the family.

Eligibility is based on income and the number of members in the applicant’s family, said a spokeswoman for the city Housing Authority, Millie Molina. For the Lees to be considered, they need an annual income under $48,500 for a family of five, Molina said. Currently, there are 140,851 applicants on a waiting list for public housing, she said.

The Lees, especially Moung Sun, want to move out of their apartment building, since every time they walk through the lobby, the death of their father, Moung Sun’s husband, becomes as fresh as ever, Sung Sin said. To that end, Mook said he would file a request for public housing on behalf of the Lees, a request that it is hoped will be honored before they are evicted.

Detectives from the 109th Precinct are still searching for the two assailants who murdered Jim Rong. They were captured on a grainy, black-and-white videotape by a camera mounted in the lobby of the apartment building. Although there was some speculation that the murder was a rite of passage for members of an El Salvadorian gang — a graffiti tag of the gang’s was scrawled on the apartment building — the police have all but discounted this theory.

Even so, a handful of city council members used the murder, and the possibility that it was gang-related, as grist for an anti-loitering bill that, in the end, proved ephemeral.

The bill, which would have empowered police to disburse crowds milling about on streets, was introduced back in November and rejected by the Committee on Pubic Safety earlier this year. Critics of the bill said it would have circumscribed one’s civil liberties, while supporters said it would have helped police rid the streets of gangs.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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