Maria Montealegre Evicted Today, a Lot of "Community," but Little Help
Maria Montealegre, the tenant at 1985 Amsterdam Avenue who was assaulted by her landlord and evicted after helping organize neighbors, has been evicted today. A marshal showed up roughly around 4 this afternoon, leaving 95 percent of her, and her family's, belongings on the sidewalk.
A bevy of people from "community groups" -- mostly from the Mirabal Center -- came to a press conference outside her building. Despite the presence of many people in yellow Mirabal shirts, no one had a real plan in place, nor anywhere for Montealegre and her four kids to go tonight.
And though Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Robert Jackson's offices seemed like they might get heavily involved in recent days, neither were there today.
In fact, almost everyone who has ever said they were trying to help Montealegre is doing little more than to wait for her to actually get evicted, put on the street, and to be put into the homeless-shelter system after she's actually homeless.
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At the press conference today, the Mirabal Center repeated the same charges it had made when the Voice first spoke to its members several months ago. Yet despite the long article we published, and the fact that it has known this eviction has been coming for months, it didn't seem to have actually done much of anything to find someplace for the Montealegre family to go. It amassed members in yellow T-shirts to create what looked like an ad for the Mirabal Center (and they held a banner of themselves in a similar formation at a similar event), but despite their network of people who rent rooms and sublet rooms, they didn't seem to have any plan for the Montealegres to go anywhere tonight.
Meanwhile, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio seems to have proved himself to be every bit as powerless as when we placed him on the Voice's list of 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers. We wrote in our feature about how his office didn't bother to return our initial calls about Montealegre's plight at the hands of Moshe Samovha, one of the landlords on his list of the city's worst. This prompted a series of calls from his office, and what promisingly seemed to be action on the part of one of his constituent advocates.
But no one from his office was in attendance at the press conference today. Sarah Figuereo, a representative, is going there tomorrow for a general meeting with tenants, to talk to them about what they can collectively do. But by then, Montealegre will not be a tenant in that building anymore.
"It seemed like [the Public Advocate] was going to move heaven and earth [for Maria]," said Andres Mares Muro, a former staff member at the Mirabal Sisters Center, who has been following Montealegre's case since the beginning. "But nothing happened."
Similarly, Councilmember Robert Jackson's office is planning a constituent meeting at 1985 Amsterdam tomorrow night, after the eviction. Juan Rosa, director of community affairs for Jackson's office, says that they were just contacted by Montealegre last Friday. (Montealegre's camp says this is not true, and Jackson's office did not respond to multiple calls about her case from the Voice several weeks ago. We got them on the phone for the first time today.)
The Mirabal Center told the Voice that Jackson's office wouldn't help unless Mirabal stepped aside, and they seemed defensive about the possibility of giving up Montealegre's case. Meanwhile, Jackson's office said its policy is to "let it be" whenever a constituent is involved with another group, and it doesn't want to get too involved.
But it wasn't clear what either side would be "giving up," as neither one was obviously doing anything to help with the most pressing problem: Montealegre and her four kids will be homeless. No one -- not Mirabal, not its members, not the Public Advocate, not Jackson, not anyone at the press conference -- seemed to have a Plan B in mind, except letting the eviction go forward and to then move them into the homeless-shelter system.
Montealegre said that Jackson's office recommended she go to housing court today with a letter from their office and ask for an extension, but she said that she couldn't stay in her apartment any longer.
"They wanted me to file the paperwork all over again, and I can't start over. I'm still getting harassed by the super and his assistant. The smell here is unbearable. We've been through too much already to start over again."
Even Shafaq Islam, a lawyer for the Urban Justice Center, came to lend his support but said that his legal options were exhausted. He wanted to make sure that "Ms. Montealegre has a plan" and "a roof over her head tonight," but admitted that "because she's been pulled in so many directions" in recent weeks, no clear plan has emerged.
Karina Aybar-Jacobs, program director at the Dominican Women's Development Center, said they were going to "do all they could" to help Montealegre find shelter tonight, but couldn't guarantee anything.
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