amNewYork: Nearly a year later, residents displaced by East Village inferno tearfully implore former landlord to aid them

Oksana Lopatynsky and son Andrew Lopatynsky. Photo by Dean Moses.

Displaced, teary-eyed East Village residents are calling upon their former landlord for aid to help rebuild their lives.

The corner of East 7th Street and Second Avenue has been the site of several disasters over the last few years, most notable of which are two fires that ravaged Middle Collegiate Church and destroyed a five-story apartment building. In February 2020, a fire ravaged 48 East 7th St., displacing tenants, and while the building remained vacant for many months, a six-alarm blaze occurring on Dec. 5, 2020 completely gutted the property, including the rent-regulated apartments and the restaurant below them.

Now nothing but an empty lot, the former tenants — many of them, seniors — have been without their home for close to 17 months. After this long waiting period, they are imploring landlord Faith Popcorn to negotiate terms, finding a way for them to return to the East Village.

The senior residents are pleading for help. Photo by Dean Moses

Those who resided at the site argue that they are senior citizens who’ve lived there for over 60 years, some even raising generations of families, and are tired of waiting to discover if they will ever call East 7th Street home again.

On July 28, the Cooper Square Committee hosted a rally with TakeRoot Justice, tenants, elected officials, and other community advocates held a rally pleading for Popcorn stop stalling and engage in meaningful negotiations.

“The fire was an enormous loss for these families, and to call it a disruption is not even appropriate—it upended their lives. Since the fire, tenants have been reaching out to the landlord Faith Popcorn and trying to keep open lines of communication and also discuss equitable arrangement with the landlord that shows consideration for them and for how long they’ve been here with deep roots in the community. However, communication with faith and her lawyers at this point has been fickle, at best,” said Brandon Kielbasa, director of organizing and policy at the tenant advocacy group Cooper Square Committee.

Many cried into tissues. Photo by Dean Moses.

Longtime resident Oksana Lopatynsky tried to hold back tears as she stood alongside her daughter Martha Lopatynsky and son Andrew Lopatynsky at the rally. She sniffled as her family recounted the life she had led before the fire burned away the sanctuary she had made upon immigrating to New York after World War II.

“We are grateful that there was no loss of life, but everyone is still traumatized. You may be wondering why we are here today and the simple answer is our parents and friends want to come back to their homes but Faith Popcorn and her team have not been active in her conversations with us. After the first fire everyone was advised to come back to their apartment within 18 months. Since the second fire there have been no answers to those questions. Five days before the pandemic shut down our country these families lost their home,” Martha Lopatynsky said.

Oksana Lopatynsky embraces Council member Carlina Rivera. Photo by Dean Moses.

Throughout the pandemic, these seniors have not only had to survive the virus but the loss of their homes simultaneously. As Council Member Carlina Rivera arrived, Oksana Lopatynsky broke down. Weeping, she fell into the elected official’s arms, who exclaimed, “enough is enough.”

“We want to ask that Faith and this company come to the table. There is no reason to hide, no reason to be afraid when people want to have a commonsense conversation and live with dignity and have the respect of their neighbor and friends who are allies,” Rivera said.

“Faith please negotiate,” one sign read. Photo by Dean Moses.

Some of the seniors are forced to stay with family members in cramped conditions while others who once held a rent stabilized apartment are now paying exorbitant prices as they nervously await their future. Advocates suggested that Popcorn could allow these rent-regulated tenants to take up residence in her other East Village properties.

“What is the status, what is our future, and how can we work together? These our families, our elders, these our people we should uplift,” Rivera said.

amNewYork Metro reached out to Faith Popcorn for comment, but received no response before the time of publication.