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Evicted senior finds a home - Local non-profit hooks up booted 94-year-old with new apt.

A 94-year-old man’s lengthy search for housing after his eviction is now over. The Fifth Avenue Committee, a local non-profit has opened its doors to Dominick Diomede, granting him a lease to a studio efficiency apartment at its 551 Warren St. building in Gowanus, where he can move in immediately. Diomede was evicted from his apartment on Woodhull St. in Carroll Gardens because he did not have a lease. Instead, he paid his rent with a handshake and $500 taken from his $1600 monthly government pension. “I never signed a lease before,” said Diomede. “Sometimes I don’t trust them [leases], I’d rather trust people.” In his new building he will be paying $462.50. City Councilmember Bill de Blasio – whose district includes Borough Park, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Kensington, Park Slope, and Windsor Terrace – said while Diomede found housing, there are other people like him still searching for homes. “This is a rapidly growing crisis,” said de Blasio. “More and more seniors are vulnerable to losing their homes. We need…a more aggressive stance to help seniors get aid for affordable housing.” Diomede’s new home will allow him to remain in near the Carroll Gardens and Red Hook areas, where he has lived for most of his life. But, still reluctant to commit to anything more formal than a headshake, Diomede requested that the proposed two-year lease be pared down to one year. “Less time is better,” said Diomede. “I never know what I am going to do.” Diomede said that after his wife died in 1981 he moved into the Carroll Gardens apartment where he was evicted. Although he spoke softly, he continued to emphasize his need for independence and his desire to stay in Brooklyn. Diomede said he has family in Chicago, and Providence, R. I., who offered him a place to stay. But he refused. “My two sons, they want to help,” Diomede said. “But I don’t want their help. If I was going to move I would have 20 years ago. I like Brooklyn, it’s home.” Michelle de la Uz, the Fifth Avenue Committee’s executive director, said Diomede can stay in the building for as long as he likes. De la Uz said the committee’s Gowanus building is federally subsidized and has 68 units for low to moderate income residents. According to the Fifth Avenue Committee, there are 400 units similar to the one Diomede will occupy. Three hundred more Brooklyn apartments are scheduled to open in the near future. Rent for these units is set at 30 percent of the tenant’s annual income, which according to the committee, is the national standard of affordability. Diomede might still be searching for a new home, were it not for the efforts of various organizations. Last summer, after learning of his situation, the New York City Department for the Aging found Diomede a lawyer, Eliot Widaen, who took the case for free. But Widaen discovered Diomede could not fight the eviction. “The law is clear and the landlord and his lawyer did what it allows,” said Widaen. According to Widaen, the landlord presented proof of ownership and served Diomede adequate notice of his eviction. Because the landlord did this, Widaen said, Diomede had no legal right to occupy the apartment. Widaen was able to extend the 94-year-old man’s residency in the Carroll Gardens apartment, buying Diomede time to relocate. According to civil court documents, Michael Errigo, the landlord, served Diomede with an eviction notice in July. The parties agreed to let Diomede occupy the apartment for six more months. The day before Diomede was scheduled to move out, his lawyer asked the judge for a stay, delaying the eviction for an additional month. Widaen said he relied on an earlier case that gave judges power to grant additional time if, “circumstances are extraordinary.” The judge set the condition that Diomede pay $2,000 for January’s rent, $1,500 more than he previously paid. An anonymous Brooklyn man who heard about Diomede’s case – covered the difference. “I don’t know that the judge would have granted the extension if it weren’t for the combination of the generous man and the prior case,” Widaen said. With the extra time, Diomede applied for emergency housing through the Fifth Avenue Committee. “We literally get hundreds of requests every year for emergency housing,” said de la Uz. “The timing just worked out this time for Dominick.” De la Uz said the Fifth Avenue Committee provides services to approximately 5,000 clients per year, many of whom can’t keep up with rising costs in New York City. “Providing affordable housing is a less desirable option for landlords,” said de la Uz. “There is a financial incentive for the landlords to raise rent when it’s not regulated.” Errigo, the landlord who evicted Diomede, declined to comment on the case when reached by phone. So did Errigo’s lawyer Robert Ehrenfeld, who has represented landlords since 1974. Although Diomede’s housing problem is solved, he is not completely free of worry. “I need a new car. I have some money saved so I am going to go buy one,” Diomede said. “The old one’s engine went out, now I can’t go anywhere.”

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