“Adela was like my mom,” he said. “This restaurant is like people’s second home.” But, Malu cautioned, the dispute between the restaurant and its landlord wasn’t the old story of a big, bad developer kicking out a neighborhood joint. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, this is gentrification,’ ” he said. “It’s not.”
The building, as much as the restaurant, was part of the Puerto Rican community’s legacy in the neighborhood. Malu gestured toward a blue-and-white tile mural above the building’s front door, which read “66 Ave C Homesteaders.” “These people, actually, with their own hands, helped to restore this building,” he said. “And that’s important for people to know.”
Gladys Duran, the board president, was born and raised in Loisaida, while Eva Eumana was born in Mexico, and Maria Peralta in Nicaragua. All three had been in the building since the nineteen-nineties, when sweat equity was still expected of new residents. Eumana, who works as a housekeeper, did cleaning work at other HDFC buildings to contribute her share.
In 2018, the board members said, the prior board president met a real-estate broker named Aretha Busby at a seminar for small landlords held at City Hall. The building hired Busby to write a report about its two commercial spaces — the space not occupied by Casa Adela is currently a bodega — to get a sense of how much more money it could be charging.The building then hired [real-estate lawyer Gregory] Byrnes, who took a look at its management and finances and was appalled by what he found. Byrnes was told that the building needed hundreds of thousands of dollars for capital repairs to address issues with the roof and the boilers, and, Byrnes said, to pay for a management company and a superintendent. The co-op was operating at a deficit each year, and its reserve fund was depleting. Byrnes had helped the residents reduce the size of the board, from every resident in the building to the current three members, to aid in decision-making, and was preparing to help them sell a couple of vacant apartments, which will be listed at only a “fraction” of the market rate, he said, in keeping with the building’s history. Raising the rent on the storefronts was needed to make up for the money the building wasn’t getting elsewhere. It had to come from somewhere.