Gentrification Stops Harlem Grandmother From Relocating

April 23, 2014

east harlem grandmotherAn East Harlem grandmother is living in a hell hole.

Collapsing hallway ceilings, moldy walls nor dozens of padlocked doors won’t deter Audrey Quantano, 58, from moving out of 2049 Fifth Ave. — even though her neighbors left the hovel for safer digs eight months ago.

The seven-story building’s new management team, West Harlem Group Assistance, bought the squalid structure, and four others uptown, from the city last year as part of a $12 million renovation deal.

Residents of the decaying dwellings were relocated to other properties throughout the nonprofit’s upper Manhattan network — and promised they could return home once the repairs are complete.

But Quantano refused to leave, declaring her own subversive revolt against Harlem’s development boom.

“I am not afraid,” Quantano said while walking through the dark, dank lobby on Monday night. “I am just a tenant in New York who is a victim of gentrification. This is not an easy thing to do.”

The nonprofit landlord is a participant in the city’s Multifamily Preservation Loan Program, which sells city-owned property on the cheap to buyers who promise to renovate it.

The program guarantees the return of tenants who live in these crumbling buildings, though empty-nesters may wind up in a smaller unit.

Quantano said she’d rather live in an eerily empty hovel than move into the temporary two-bedroom apartment the West Harlem Group had set up for her on W. 129th St.

The mother of two adult sons, both of whom she says are either in jail or on the streets, has had her four-bedroom seventh floor flat for 15 years. The former cook pays $357 a month in rent. Her only full-time roommates are aging Rotweilers Harlem and Onyx.

She refuses to budge, afraid that when she returns, she’ll be given a smaller apartment.

“I am not afraid. I am just a tenant in New York who is a victim of gentrification.”

“They didn’t make me an offer to a comparable apartment,” Quantano mused. “Where am I going to go?”

Her decision to stay has delayed renovations by at least eight months, forcing the neighbors to wait until Quantano leaves — or is evicted by a Manhattan Housing Court judge — before management can begin renovating their building.

Quantano is scheduled to appear in court on May 5.

“She is selfish,” said one frustrated relative of Quantano’s longtime neighbor. “All the tenants moved out. She is the only person not abiding by the rules. Who is she fighting for? For herself.”

Donald Notice, the executive director of West Harlem Group Assistance, said he can’t begin the gut renovations until Quantano gets out, and he can’t force her to go. Any attempt to turn off her lights or gas would amount to harassment, he said.

“We have to maintain the building like 50 people are living in it,” Notice said. “The building is falling down. The building needs renovation.”

Quantano says she has been trapped inside the elevator at least eight times since everyone moved out. She said she simply calls the Fire Department for rescue.

And she made a deal with the local mailman who telephones when he has letters to deliver. The building’s mailboxes sit dusty and broken — untouched for months.

“This has been my home for 15 years,” Quantano said. “I will fight for it” (source).

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