Clearing the Air

Happy Ending? Martin's Story, Part 2

Updated 44 weeks ago David Stone
Sometimes, we all need the help of friends...
Sometimes, we all need the help of friends...

One of my favorite quotes from the late Wayne Dyer, "Friends are God's way of making it up to you for your family," isn't true for everyone, but in Martin's case, the blessings of friendship delivered gifts money could not buy.

A few weeks back, we wrote About Martin, a disabled man living in terrible conditions in Roosevelt Landings. How was it possible here? We're not sure we have all the answers, but we did get an education.

Martin's apartment, once scarred with mold, has already been "deep cleaned." An exterminator started the two-step process of making it bedbug free.

Not long after our article was published, I bumped into Martin (not his real name) in his building. He was all smiles. He thanked me, but I didn't deserve it.

There are others who do - friends who invested emotion, time and effort helping him.

With nothing to claim for themselves but the satisfaction of doing the right thing.

Happy Ending? Martin's Story, Part 2

And a tip of the hat also goes to Martin's landlord, Urban American, and their local manager Doryne Isley.

Landlords frequently get blamed for housing problems, but it's not always deserved. Knowledge about how the laws work, and sometimes don't work, is not common.

When I told her that Urban American was being accused of trying to evict Martin for financial gain, Isley shot back that nothing was farther from the truth.

At a one-on-one meeting, she was clear: "My job is to house people not evict them.”

The judicial process in which her company is engaged, one that provoked suspicion and distrust, she explained, is oriented around arranging optimum conditions for Martin's daily life. Pushing him into the street or a homeless shelter was never among the possibilities.

"So, even if you suddenly sprouted horns and wanted to evict him, you couldn't?"

She shook her head.

"No judge would let us do that," she said, a fact of life to her but news to Martin's supporters.

Privacy rules prevent Isley and us from directly discussing Martin's situation, but we can report enough to give you a sense of the reality.

Isley summarized, “For the past four years we have been working with this resident and outside agencies to resolve this. We remain committed to improving the conditions in (his) apartment as soon as we are permitted reasonable access to do so effectively."

In 2014, Urban American first realized Martin's living conditions were unacceptable. They initiated action in Housing Court.

Here, I needed to adjust my own expectations.

Housing Court, when it comes to individuals living in supported Section Eight apartments, as Martin is, actions aren't aimed eviction.

What Urban American did was set in motion the appointment of a guardian to act on Martin's behalf, to fill in where he was unable.

It's assumed that a knowledgeable guardian, a kind of referee, is best able to look after a client's best interests and to pull together resources for the best living conditions.

In the years since a guardian was first assigned, the story gets murky, partly because Martin's self-reliance and pride kept friends as well as family from knowing enough about his circumstances.

And those who knew some things and not all weren't in touch with others who could connect the dots for a complete picture.

A series of guardians worked with Martin. At times, his living conditions improved, only to deteriorate later. Urban American wrestled with consequences that affected other apartments. A rule meant to protect him, preventing the landlord from entering his apartment without his permission, worked against him.

Necessary repairs and upgrades provided in similar apartments did not take place because Martin suspected that each attempt might lead to eviction. No one was able to convince him otherwise.  

Was there some landlord neglect? Did court appointed guardians fail to act effectively in his behalf? Does Martin share some of the blame?

Maybe none of the above. Maybe all of them.

Everyone seemed to be stuck spinning wheels on disconnected bicycles while things got worse for Martin.

That's where his friends came in.

Concerned after a chance encounter with Martin, a friend for more than a decade, Alice (also not a real name) persuaded him to let her have a look at his apartment. An accomplished photographer, she brought her camera. Then, she called me.

Her voice was shaking.

"We have to do something. He can't live like this."

Her photographs accompanied our first article about Martin. They were shocking, illustrating conditions few thought conceivable in our community.

We fanned out, me to gather information, Alice to contact as many friends and family as she could locate. Together, we wanted to fully understand Martin's legal circumstances and enable those who cared about him to work together.

Synergy developed.

Everyone was on the same page. They just didn't know it.

At the Roosevelt Island Senior Center, where Martin regularly visited, I heard about his efforts to get help from a caseworker. Fred Colero seemed as up to speed as anyone on Martin's circumstances. He was also eager to pitch in, above and beyond his job description.

Generous with her time, willing to commit whatever was needed, Doryne Isley showed a willingness also to do more than required to help.

Alice recruited a friend whose work experience familiarized her with relevant government funding sources. She brought useful advice and made calls.


Today, Martin's situation is promising. His apartment is clean, mold free. He has some new furniture, and Urban American is committed to updating his apartment when arrangements can be made.

He's not the only one smiling. We're all optimistic about he future.

We can be confident that his friends will be watching.


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