By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
We have to have a two-part Shelter column because of all your housing battles. Pauline, you're 79; Bernard, 92. You've lived in the neighborhood since . . . ? [Pauline] The Third Avenue el was up. We raised our daughter here. When the el came down, speculators came in. "This house should go down," they said. "That one." A real land grab.
You took up the sword. Where were you born? East Side. My family lived in a lot of places. In those years, immigrants didn't have enough to pay the rent. When they couldn't pay, they moved to the next apartment. Bernie was raised in an orphanage. [Bernard] The memories are baggage I don't want to carry with me. [Pauline] Where did we meet? I don't know. We were socially conscious people. We met at some working-class hall, maybe Webster Hall, 62 years ago. We fell in love in three weeks and got married. We both wanted a better life, better people, better everything. Bernie was a merchant seaman. He said he'd have to go to sea. It was l940. He went to San Pedro, California. I went with him and worked in the fish cannery union. People were making 16 cents an hour, wearing heavy boots. When the fish came in, bells rang. We had to run to work or the fish would rot. Then we decided to come back to New York. I got a cold-water flat on First Avenue, 1942. It was hard to find a place. Then we got an apartment in the building next door to here. Then came the March of the Monoliths, the late '50s. The el's down. Speculators say, "Why do we need three stories when we can have 24?" They threw down the working-class houses. [Bernard] A terrible thingthe beginning of the homeless problem in New York. [Pauline] Lo and behold, speculators bought our building. Yes, we had rent-control protection. But it was like today. They'd harass people out of their housesfires, floods. Thugs would come knock on doors.
What were you paying back then? [Bernard] Forty dollars a month. If we had had to move, we would have had to pay $100. We were having a hard time. [Pauline] I was a part-time waitress. We needed dental work for my child, piano lessons. [Bernard] A lot of our time we gave to social causes. McCarthy destroyed our ability to make a living. I was blacklisted after 25 years as a merchant seaman. [Pauline] Bernie was secretary of the joint strike committee, the Seafarers Union. [Bernard] I had to make a living. So I did house painting. I got involved in tenants' rights because six different landlords tried to buy these properties and force us out. [Pauline] We were able to knock down each one10 years, six different owners. It took five years to fight the last one, who said, "These people are ruining me. They're costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars." [Bernard] I was working for Legal Aid at the time. The landlord owned this building and the one we were in next door. I said, "The way out is to let him have the other building. We'll fit all the tenants from both buildings into this one." [Pauline] There were only eight left in this one. The others fled out of fear. [Bernard] We got the city to advance us money for what he paid for this building$250,000. [Pauline] The city gave us a mortgage at a low interest rate. [Bernard] We had to set up a co-op corporation. [Pauline] We had a big, round table with lawyers. [Bernard] No, the lawyers were not at the table. [Pauline] There were lawyers. [Bernard] In the next 20 years, we paid the mortgage off. Some couldn't pay. We helped raise a lot of money for two elderly people. It was one of the few successful co-ops back then. But they should have given people expert advisers. There were properties the city had taken over. [Pauline] Loads! [Bernard] The city only chose a handful to turn into co-ops. [Pauline] The amount of pressure we put on City Hall was unbelievable. Now we get to Esther Moscow!
Next week: Bernard Goodman takes on Koch