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Ninety-one-year-old Ralph Calinda has fought his fair share of battles over his lifetime.
He fought for the United States during World War II, he battles diabetes and high blood pressure every day, and now he’s facing a different conflict — keeping the apartment he has called home for more than 60 years.
Calinda lives alone in a three-bedroom apartment in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Pomonok Houses in Flushing. Through NYCHA’s downsizing policy, which moves residents who “overuse apartments” to smaller ones, the city agency wants to kick him out of his home.
They have sent letters to force him to take one-bedroom apartments, but in foreign neighborhoods such as the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City and the Ravenswood Houses in Astoria. Finally, they asked him to move to an apartment in the Pomonok Houses, but it lacked essential appliances and was unfurnished. Calinda, who retired nearly three decades ago, believes he wouldn’t even be able to make the move physically or financially, since he depends on social security payments.
Councilman Rory Lancman and other politicians rallied with Calinda and his family against the NYCHA policy in a protest on Friday, to call on the agency to halt its downsizing of senior residents and to overhaul the initiative.
“They have lately stepped up in a very, very aggressive way,” Lancman said about NYCHA. “We are here today to demand that they stop and that they treat their long-time residents like valuable citizens of the communities that they’ve lived in, rather than as pieces of furniture they can move around from one place to the other.”
Calinda uses a cane to walk, and that’s only during the rare times he leaves his apartment. “Pop,” as he is known among family members, friends and neighbors, now enjoys painting, word puzzles and gardening.
But before he retired, Calinda used to build fighter jets for the Air Force. He even helped build the NASA space shuttles, and although Calinda wouldn’t say which one, he allegedly engraved the name of his late wife on the tail of one of the space rockets.
Calinda raised seven children from his apartment, which has six rooms, counting a living room, kitchen and a bathroom. He said he may have been willing to leave if NYCHA first came to him when his kids became adults and left 30 years ago, but not now.
“It’s been my home for so long, I just think it should be my home forever,” he said.
NYCHA has yet to return a request for comment.