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Elderly Woman Says Italian American Museum Forcing Her Out Of Apartment

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An 85-year-old woman is fighting eviction at her apartment in Little Italy.

Adele Sarno has lived in her home on Grand Street for 50 years.

"Look, I haven't got much left in life. I mean, I'm going to be 86 in August. How many years will I have left?" she told 1010 WINS. "What do you do with senior citizens, throw them in the street?"

Sarno said her landlord, Joseph Scelsa, is pressuring her to leave so the Italian American Museum can expand into her building.

Sarno has support from Little Italy's community and housing leaders. On Wednesday, advocates protested the planned eviction in Little Italy.

"I just want to be left alone," she said. "The few years that I've got left."

Elderly Woman Says Italian American Museum Forcing Her Out Of Apartment

But a civil court judge ruled that Sarno does not live in a rent controlled apartment and is not entitled to any rent protections. Sarno pays just $820 a month, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

"He's only here five years. He don't come from my neighborhood," Sarno said. "I was here all my life. I'm more the Italian one than he is."

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, Sarno was Queen of the San Gennaro Feast in 1945.

"This is my neighborhood. If God is going to take me, let him take me here," Sarno said.

Neighbors still call her the Queen of Little Italy.

"How do you throw an 86-year-old woman out? How? Don't you have a heart? Don't you have a mother?" she told Haskell.

The Italian American Museum released a statement, citing the judge's ruling.

"After examining this case, a New York City Civil Court judge and the New York State Department of Housing & Community Renewal have determined, based on the evidence presented, that rent-regulation is not applicable to the dwelling in question, the statement said.

"Governed by these orders, the Museum will pursue its plans for expansion, and continue to serve as an anchor institution for the Italian American legacy in Little Italy."

Italian American business owners on Mulberry Street said that the Italian American Museum is not the rock of their community.

"It's been a disaster for our community. They have not once been a part of our community. All they have done is evicted restaurant owners, and now an 85-year-old woman. Shame on them," John Fratta, Italian American Society said.

Little Italy is a fragment of what it once was, while nearby SoHo and Chinatown are growing.

Joe Morrone works at Avella Specialties which opened in the late 1800s, he said gentrification is inevitable, but this is just wrong.

"I remember her looking out the window as a kid, and see her. She is the century of the neighborhood. There has to be some kind of happy medium," Morrone said.

Fair housing advocates said the Italian American Museum is no different than private landlords looking to bring their units to current market rate.

"This is the neighborhood that has been founded on the back of people who live here. We should honor that when people get older we can't discard them we should honor who they are and what they have contributed," Damaris Reyes said.

The grandmother of two said her only other option is to move in with her daughter across the country.

"If I go to Wisconsin I see squirrels running around, and rabbits. Not me, first of all I'll die of the cold out there. No I wanna stay here in New York," she said.

Her deadline to move out is April 6. She has a new lawyer and plans to fight this in court on April 2.

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