NEWARK - A year ago, Tasha and her four children were living in a single room in a New York City shelter. So when she heard about a city program that would pay a year's rent if she agreed to relocate, she jumped at it.
"I was approved for the apartment and then I moved in here February," Tasha said from the kitchen of the three-bedroom apartment on the West Side of Newark. She asked FOX 5 NY not to use her last name to protect her family's privacy.
New York City's Department of Homeless Services paid a year's worth of $1,300-a-month rent for Tasha as part of its Special One-Time Assistance, or SOTA program. It's a controversial program that the city of Newark recently sued to stop, claiming families are being placed in substandard housing and left to fend for themselves. The lawsuit alleges New York City claimed they could no longer help the SOTA recipients about conditions and lack of actions by landlords because they are now residents of Newark.
Tasha's situation illustrates more complex issues with the program.
She said her apartment has been fine, though the neighborhood is plagued with drugs and violence and she's often worried about her kids' safety.
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But that turned out to be the lesser of her problems when her building went into foreclosure in February and was then purchased by a new owner. That new owner sued her claiming she was illegally occupying the apartment.
"He's saying I'm a squatter," she said.
Tasha called her case worker at New York City's Department of Homeless Services to help prove her rent was paid in full.
"I asked him to help me prove to the new landlord that I'm supposed to be here, and the only thing they were able to give me was the lease and they told me they didn't have no documentation other than this that they paid the rent," she said.
The lease did not show proof of full payment, just the time period for the rental and monthly rent.
A spokesperson for DHS said the department would investigate Tasha's situation but can't discuss specific cases.
In the meantime, Tasha turned to Essex-Newark Legal Services in a desperate bid to keep a roof over her kids' heads. Attorney Jose Ortiz took Tasha's case and was finally able to get proof from the city that the family's rent was paid, which led to the case being dropped.
Tasha and her kids can now stay at the apartment and she plans to start paying the rent herself in February. But she said the two months of stress she experienced dealing with a potential eviction weighed on her. And she feels like New York City set her up to fail.
"I do feel like they abandoned me, yes, because they did like, just brushing me off, that's basically what they did they don't care," she said.