The Rev. James Blakely, a 97-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, is battling a nonprofit veterans organization to stay in a Brooklyn apartment that he believes was given to him rent free five years ago, the New York Daily News reported.
“They’re trying to put me out. It’s injustice. I don’t know what’s going to happen. … I don’t feel good. I got no place else to go,” said the decorated Pearl Harbor survivor.
Five years ago, journalist Denis Hamill discovered Blakely living in a junkyard trailer with no running water. Arrangements were made days later for him to move into a studio apartment through Black Veterans for Social Justice, a nonprofit that helps vets obtain their military benefits and social services. Blakely’s understanding was that the living space was free. All was well until he received an eviction notice last year that said he owed $24,130 in back rent.
“When we first put Rev. Blakely into that apartment in 2012 and furnished it for him, it was a one-year rent-free lease. After that, Mr. Blakely and his wife signed documents agreeing to pay rent. They have not. We submitted those documents to the courts,” Wendy McClinton, president and CEO of Black Veterans for Social Justice, told the Daily Beast. But Hamill was present when Blakely moved into the apartment and does not recall any discussion about rent. The veteran’s wife, Bonita Blakely, is adamant that neither she nor her husband signed a lease. What’s more, she said the alleged signed lease has a fraudulent signature. Hamill is suspicious that the organization did not notifying Blakely about rent for years–not until a developer sought to purchase the property in May. A court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.