Meet Dominick Diomede. He’s 94 years old. He’s lived in Carroll Gardens for almost every day of his life. He’s sharp as a tack, pays his rent on time, does free electrical work for anyone who asks, and is the cleanest person this side of Tony Randall.
And next week, he’ll be homeless.
Happy New Year, Dom.
The story of how Dominick Diomede will up without a roof over his head is more than a tale of an old man whose landlord wants him out so he can get more rent, but a larger story about what happens when a city chews up and spits out one of its own.
Certainly, though, it starts with a landlord-tenant dispute.
Diomede, you see, pays just $500 a month for his floor-through apartment on Woodhull Street. His downstairs neighbors? They came much later, so they pay $2,500.
Unlike them, though, Diomede doesn’t have a lease. He never needed one; his best friend Charlie owned the building, and back in the old days, a handshake and an on-time rent check were the only contract anyone needed.
But Charlie is long gone and now his grandkids want Diomede out. They served him with an eviction notice on Jan. 5 and he’ll be forced to move on Jan. 22. (Neither the landlord, nor his lawyer, could be reached for comment.)
“Dom’s legal battle is hopeless, really,” said Eliot Widaen, who became Diomede’s lawyer thanks to a program by the city Department for the Aging that hooks up seniors with pro-bono lawyers and social workers. “He doesn’t have a lease. The court gave him six months [to leave], and that’s the max.”
DFTA has been searching for an apartment for Diomede, but it doesn’t control any housing units of its own, and even the city Housing Authority doesn’t give seniors priority (until they’re actually on the street, that is — which is the very scenario the Department for the Aging is trying to avoid).
So that’s it then? A 94-year-old guy who was best friends with the man whose grandkids are evicting him will be out on the street simply because people nowadays can’t wait for an old man to die before they cash in on the gentrification that guys like Diomede helped set into motion.
“It’s all about the money,” Diomede told me. “I’ve known this family since 1920. I did all their electrical work. I shoveled. I mowed the garden.”
The other day, I sat rapt as Diomede told the story of his life. Born in 1912 — “At 32 Luquer St.,” he said, recalling small details that slip my 41-year-old brain — he lived outside South Brooklyn for only a few scattered months.
In his time, he was an electrician, a shoemaker, a broom maker, a soda maker, a bird-cage maker (which was apparently a big South Brooklyn trade in the old days), a semi-pro ballplayer, and even a Western Union boy during the Depression.
And through it all, he never missed a rent payment. But now he’s got to go — though he swears he’ll leave Carroll Gardens over his dead body.
“I’ll sleep in my Buick before I move anywhere else,” he said (yes, he still drives).
The hope is that media coverage of Diomede’s plight will encourage someone to rent this nice guy an apartment.
Thanks to a steady pension, he can afford $800 a month — if such a thing exists in this city anymore.