After a long battle, it appears that Adele Sarno, an 85-year old woman, will be evicted from her Little Italy apartment as early as this week. Her landlord is the Italian American Museum, an organization that purchased the three-story building, 185 Grand St. (Mulberry Street), in 2008.
Back in 2010, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council organized a protest in front of the museum and helped Sarno make her case to the New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR). But she lost when the agency determined that the apartment was not rent regulated, and a civil court judge in New York City affirmed the decision. Here’s a statement put out by Two Bridges this morning:
Adele Sarno, one of Little Italy’s oldest living residents at 85 years old, is facing immediate eviction from her Grand Street apartment by her landlord, the Italian-American Museum. A warrant for Ms. Sarno’s eviction has been issued and it is highly likely she will be forcefully moved from the apartment by the end of this week. Ms. Sarno claims she has lived in the apartment for the past 53 years… Ms. Sarno lives on an incredibly modest, fixed income: with only her monthly social security and a little help from her daughter (who lives in Wisconsin), she is just barely able to pay the museum the $820.00 she is currently charged per month for rent. Ms. Sarno claims that she has been a resident of 185 Grand Street since 1962, acquiring all the rights to the rent-controlled apartment upon the death of her father in 1976. In spite of the fact that other apartments have rent-control status within the adjoining museum-owned buildings, Ms. Sarno’s apartment, but for a bureaucratic technicality, does not. Having exhausted all legal avenues, marshals are set to forcibly evict Ms. Sarno from her apartment at the end of this week.
The non-profit advocacy organization concedes that Sarno does not have the law on her side. She was unable to prove that she had lived in the apartment continuously and the museum provided information that Sarno might have occupied a different apartment in the neighborhood for a period of time. But Two Bridges President Victor Papa argues that there’s a larger point:
For an institution that purports to promote and preserve Italian-American culture, the museum fails profoundly in recognizing that among its most valuable assets are the long-term residents of the neighborhood. We are not going to besmirch the mission of the Italian-American Museum as it is stated, nor the donors who generously support that mission; nor will we besmirch the State Education Department which gave academic sanction to that mission. But Ms. Sarno’s continued occupancy as one of Little Italy’s oldest residents is also a mission. Many of the circumstances of her case bear too-close-for-comfort characteristics of those that community-based housing organizations readily recognize: vulnerable citizens being ousted by speculative landlords and developers abounding in Little Italy, Chinatown and the greater Lower East Side.
This afternoon, the Italian American Museum also released a statement:
After examining this case, a New York City Civil Court judge has determined, based on the evidence presented, that rent-regulation is not applicable to the dwelling in question. Governed by this order, the Museum will pursue its plans for expansion, and continue to serve as an anchor institution for the Italian American legacy in Little Italy.
The museum’s director, Joseph Scelsa, outlined a plan a few years ago to sell the property to a developer with the understanding that the current dwellings would be demolished and that an expanded museum would be located in a new mixed-use building. Scelsa told the New York Times in 2013 that it was the only way to assure the institution’s survival. Today a spokesperson said no deal is in place as of yet but talks continue with various interested parties.
Built in 1885, 185 Grand St. once served as Banca Stabile, which lent money to Italian immigrants for their journeys to New York. A couple of years ago, local preservationist Mitchell Grubler submitted a request for evaluation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission declined, saying the building was ineligible for individual designation.
The museum spokesperson said it’s not yet clear when Sarno must be out of her apartment.
See an update on this story here.