When I wrote about Aponte in May, the whole situation seemed pretty hopeless. Aponte, who'd tenaciously tried to get someone in city government to help out a small-business owner, was close to giving up.
"Maybe it's not meant to be," she said.
Who could blame her? She'd already spent $20,000, her life savings, on a shell of a house to expand her bustling and cramped day-care business. By the time we met, she'd spent nearly a decade trying to get the city to fix their mistake, fairly. But even with relentless help from Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez's office, the city just kept playing a game of delusional appraisals.
First, Aponte was told the fair market value was about $60,000. Then after a backdated appraisal in 2009 by the Vacant Property Review Committee, the price was adjusted to $26,000 - which would have seemed fair only to anyone without eyes.
Reality check: This is a dilapidated house next to an abandoned factory in a rather rough part of town that's going to cost a lot to fix up. The city should have thrown the grandma a party for buying the property and cleaning it up. Instead, it made her jump through moving hoops.
After a new "front door" process went into effect in 2012 to more fairly price city-owned vacant properties, a new price was set at around $11,000. But in April, they inexplicably increased it to $26,000, with a balloon mortgage - meaning that in five years, she'd have to pay the city the full amount or lose the property.
If your head is spinning, imagine how Aponte felt.
Last week, a miracle happened - which in city-speak means staying sane after years of being put through the bureaucratic ringer. Friday, the city agreed to an $11,000 lien that would only become due if she sells or refinances the property. That meant she'd be able to put her remaining savings into renovating the home and expanding her business.
"It's going to take some time, but I'm really excited," Aponte said when we spoke yesterday. Aponte, who celebrated her 62nd birthday just a few days before the news, said it felt "like a belated birthday gift from God."
I don't know about that, but too often it sure does seem to take divine intervention for the city to do right by its residents.
As happy as I am for Aponte, I looked at my growing list of calls from frustrated citizens and realized that for every Aponte, there are tons more residents who have been waiting just as long, if not longer, to get resolution of one sort or another from the city.
Quinones-Sanchez said she has a small mountain of special cases herself. Part of the problem, she said, is the administration's reluctance to admit it was wrong. But she said, it's not about placing blame.
"It's about doing the right thing for a small-business owner," she said.
Aponte offered a little advice to anyone who might find themselves in her shoes. "Just keep knocking on doors."
Good advice. But it really shouldn't be this hard, or take this long, for the city to do right by its residents.
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