SPLIT DECISION ON SHELTER

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Losing their apartment to a raging fire was bad enough, but when seven members of the Franco family sought help from the city housing agency a few days later, they were handed what they consider an even worse fate — the breakup of their family.

After a fire destroyed their Lower East Side apartment and belongings at 4 in the morning on December 30, 72-year-old Ydalia Franco, her two siblings, brother-in-law and three nieces and nephews asked for emergency shelter from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. But on January 3, HPD told them that only two members of the family qualified for spots in their temporary shelters. The rest, agency officials said, couldn’t prove they actually lived in the apartment, and therefore were ineligible.

That left Ydalia’s sister Victoria, her husband and two teenage children, plus Ydalia’s nephew, on their own. The family matriarch is agonized over that prospect. “I can’t put them on the street,” said Ydalia, who had lived in the family’s rent-stabilized apartment for 28 years. “All of us wanted to stay together as a family: We’re very close.”

Besides, each of the Francos say, they do have some documentation — pay stubs, school records and bills — that proves they all lived together in their two-bedroom apartment at 275 Broome Street.

HPD disagrees: An agency spokesperson said that the Francos’ landlord indicated that only Ydalia and her brother lived there, and that the documentation provided by the other family members doesn’t qualify as adequate proof of residence.

The Francos’ landlord, Wing Yee, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

But the family insists that documents like utility bills and school identification cards, which the city requires as official proof of residence, were lost in the fire. They question why HPD has been unwilling to accept alternative proof. Even more frustrating, the family says, HPD refused to provide them with a list of which documents were acceptable. “When the family asked which documents they could provide that would count, they wouldn’t answer,” said Jorge Irizarry, a tenant advocate with the University Settlement Society who went with the family to a meeting with HPD.

For now, the Francos are couch-surfing with friends. They’re trying to piece together enough clothes for the adults to go to work and kids to go to school. If HPD reconsiders its decision — the family is working with City Councilmember Alan Gerson’s office to prepare an appeal — the Francos say they only want to stay in the HPD shelter for the short term, until they can return to their apartment when it’s rebuilt.

“We want our same apartment back,” says Ydalia. “I’m an old person; I’m often sick. My doctor is there. My church is there. I love my church. I don’t want to leave.”