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For Brooklyn public housing tenant Lisette Vidal, the arrival of 2020 did not register as such a happy New Year.
The “NOTICE OF EVICTION” from the city marshal was dated Dec. 31 and its message was not subtle: “If you fail to vacate the described premises, YOU MAY BE EVICTED WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE ON THE SIXTH BUSINESS DAY AFTER THE DATE OF THIS NOTICE.”
The New York City Housing Authority claims Vidal owes thousands of dollars in back rent. But she says her ex-husband, an ex-cop, allegedly stiffed the authority before leaving his family and the NYPD five years earlier.
She’d already found receipts showing she’d paid some of what NYCHA claimed she owed, and with help from Brooklyn Legal Services had been in the process of working out a final payment when she got the surprise New Year’s Eve notice.
Vidal, 46, has lived in the two-bedroom apartment in the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn for 17 years, raising her two daughters, Katherine, 16, and Keanna, 12, there. The jarring New Year’s Eve message from NYCHA rattled her sense of security.
“[It’s] the date when everyone is with their family and receiving good news and yet we are receiving this,” she said in Spanish via translation by her attorney, Luis Henriquez Carrero. “You can imagine. How am I supposed to feel? I felt horrible. My daughters, too, felt horrible.”
Left With a Bad Deal
In 2015, her then-police officer husband left her and quit the force, her lawyers said. At the time, the lease was in his name and he signed a document agreeing that he and his family would vacate the apartment in six months, according to the lawyers. Vidal signed the document as well.
Vidal — who does not speak or read English — said she did not understand what she’d signed at the time, and soon after NYCHA began its first effort to get her out of the apartment.
Brooklyn Legal Services got involved, then U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan) intervened.
In January 2017, NYCHA acquiesced, stating that the authority no longer intended to evict her and her daughters. At the time, officials verbally promised to give Vidal a lease in her name, her lawyers said.
Months dragged on, during which time Vidal said she largely continued to pay her $523 rent on time.
Sometimes she missed a month, but she would then make a back payment to catch up, according to the ledger NYCHA kept of her payments that the authority provided to Brooklyn Legal Services.
It was not until March 2019 that NYCHA finally sent a letter stating that it was now prepared to send over a lease, but stating that first she had to pay up $7,337 in back rent — over 14 times her current rent. Vidal said she was shocked at the amount.
She scrounged through her home files and found receipts for multiple payments NYCHA claimed she still owed dating back to when her ex wasn’t sending over the check. She concluded she only owed $3,409, and agreed to pay only that.
Brooklyn Legal Services went back and forth through June, providing NYCHA with receipts. After July 2, however, NYCHA was no longer responding.
NYCHA Takes a Hard Line
After the New Year’s Eve eviction notice arrived, Henriquez Carrero and Brooklyn Legal Services’ Jooyeon Lee reached out to NYCHA to ask what had happened to negotiations that abruptly halted at the beginning of summer.
In an email sent Friday to Brooklyn Legal Services and attached to court papers, NYCHA attorney Stephanie Jones offered no explanation, writing only, “Our position is that this money is owed and we intend to evict.”
“That is the whole issue with NYCHA — how can you explain their bureaucratic ways?” asked Lee. “They are not interested in resolving it. NYCHA’s position is, ‘No, we’re just going to evict you.’ That is the outrageous part of this.”
A NYCHA spokesperson referred THE CITY to the authority’s court filings, which argue that Vidal must pay the full amount NYCHA says she owes or face eviction.
On Tuesday, Legal Services went to Brooklyn Housing Court and got a judge to temporarily halt the eviction through Jan. 29. Over the next weeks Vidal hopes to work out an arrangement to pay what she says she owes and end the uncertainty for her family.
“My daughters were born here, my daughters were raised here,” she said. “I feel horrible that they are doing this to me, which is why I fought this and will continue to fight this because I do not want to see my daughters on the street.
“My daughters are very good girls and I see how much this is affecting them. They ask me, ‘What’s happening? Are they going to kick us out?’”
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