Life-long NYCHA resident faces eviction for records mistake

Leatha Harper has many fond childhood memories of growing up in Brooklyn’s Pink Houses.

Her two-bedroom apartment was the place where she celebrated birthdays, played with friends and lived with her foster mom from the time she was just a month old.

But in the eyes of the New York City Housing Authority, Harper simply never existed as one of its tenants.

Harper, 20, is facing eviction from the only home she has ever known because her mother — who died last April — never listed Leatha’s name on the apartment’s family composition records kept on file by the Housing Authority.

As a result, NYCHA has summarily ruled that she has no right to remain in the East New York apartment — without even examining the more than 200 pages of documents showing that since 1996 she was raised there by Shirley Harper, whom Leatha affectionately called “Nana.” Shirley Harper legally adopted Leatha when she was 4.

“I have all the papers showing that I was here since I was a newborn,” Harper told the Daily News on Wednesday. “It really bothers me that they don’t understand the situation. It doesn’t make sense.”

Leatha, on her own, appeared at hearings presided over by Samuel Bamiro, the housing project’s manager, and borough director Denise Brockington, who both said that she did not convince them of her longtime residency, according to court papers.

After lawyer Jason Vendzules of Brooklyn Legal Services took on her case, he amassed more than 200 pages of records from the Administration for Children’s Services, schools, hospitals, court and even the local pharmacy showing her continuing residence at the apartment.

But NYCHA bureaucrats refused to grant her a new hearing and told Vendzules to take Harper’s beef to court.

“They’re incapable of getting out beyond their paperwork to figure this out,” Vendzules said.

So he took them up on their challenge and has filed a petition in Manhattan Supreme Court against NYCHA and its chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, to overturn the agency’s decision.

After a Daily News inquiry, NYCHA spokeswoman Zodet Negron said, “We understand Ms. Harper’s personal connection to this apartment. She is able to remain living in the apartment as NYCHA reviews the circumstances of her case.”

Harper is the youngest of four girls raised by Shirley Harper — two biological daughters and two foster children — in the apartment where she had resided since 1971.

When baby Leatha was placed with her in foster care in 1996, Shirley’s daughters were adults and had moved out on their own.

Shirley Harper was diagnosed with cancer last March and traveled to Virginia to spend the last month of her life at her daughter’s apartment.

Despite all of her children attending the funeral in North Carolina, there is a rift between Leatha and one of the sisters, Penny Lewis, who also lives in Brooklyn.

Before Shirley’s death, Lewis tossed out virtually all of the furniture in the apartment — stripping it to the walls, according to the lawsuit.

The sister allegedly told NYCHA managers the apartment was vacant and anything left there could be tossed in the trash.

“She really don’t like me,” Harper said of her sister, declining to discuss the issue further.

As a result, Harper was homeless for a week after the locks were changed on her — time she spent riding the A train and staying with friends until a Housing Court judge ruled that she could return to the apartment. She now sleeps on a couch without even a blanket.

The voluminous records meticulously detail Leatha’s trips to Brookdale University Hospital, listing Shirley as her parent; doctor visits, and pharmacy records showing her living at the Stanley Ave. apartment through this year.

Elementary through high school records also confirm the home address and Shirley Harper attending parent-teacher conferences.

Leatha Harper says she doesn’t know why her mother neglected to list her with NYCHA.

“I don’t think she knew it would come down to this,” she said. “I feel like she was my real mom. I felt safe and comfortable here. I don’t see myself going anywhere else. I can see myself having a foster child like my mom did and raise the child here.”

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