WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Home is where the heart is. But for Octavio Estevez and his family, home for more than a year was in a Bronx shelter — presenting a dire set of circumstances for the ailing man.
Estevez, 54, who is desperately in need of a kidney, was declared ineligible for a transplant because he did not have a permanent home.
Now, a day before Christmas he, his wife and two young children have a place to call their own and a new lease on life.
“Muchas gracias! Muchas gracias!” said an elated Estevez as he held the brass key to 369 Edgecombe Ave. high in front of the Sugar Hill building Saturday afternoon.
The building, near 151st Street, was recently acquired by the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) and is in the process of being converted into affordable housing.
“We’re extremely happy when this Christmas story come true. It’s the spirit of the season though we need this spirit every day,” said Yvonne Stennett, Executive Director CLOTH.
Also on hand was Washington Heights Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who spearheaded the efforts to find Estevez a home, which will be fully ready for the family next week.
“It’s beautiful to be able to finally see Mr. Estevez and his family have a home to call their own,” he said.
Estevez’s plight, first detailed in the Daily News, garnered headlines earlier this month with the story of his life-and-death struggle in the face of regulations for receiving organ transplants.
A former tailor in the Garment District, Estevez, was laid off in 2006 after a series of strokes.
That year he was diagnosed with renal problem that lowered his kidney function to 24 percent.
Estevez's failing health soon left him unable to pay the rent and drove him and his family into the city's shelter system.
There, he was caught in between the hospital and bureaucracy of the city housing system.
Mount Sinai Hospital required him to be in stable housing in order to qualify for a donor organ, according to the News. At the same time the city’s Housing Authority refused to let him jump ahead on the 160,000 plus people waiting list.
But things are now looking brighter for Estevez.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital so far has agreed to keep him on the transplant waiting list and with his new home, Estevez will be eligible for the surgery when an organ is available.
“In cases like Octavio’s, we need to come together as a city to cut all the red tape and save a man’s life,” Rodriguez said.
While Estevez is not out of the woods, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat lauded the help the family received.
“It shouldn’t take a Christmas miracle for New Yorkers in dire need to get housing,” he said.
“This is the first step to save his life.”