March 21, 2013 New York Daily News -
By John Marzulli -A 74-year-old Brooklyn woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and unable to sign paperwork has been threatened with the termination of a rent subsidy by heartless bureaucrats at the city Housing Authority, a lawsuit says.
Legal advocates for Luz Ortega have filed suit in Brooklyn Federal Court to stop the madness that could result in the elderly woman losing the apartment she’s lived in for 15 years.
“If she loses the benefits, she can’t pay for the apartment on her own,” lawyer Rebekah Diller of the Benjamin Cardozo Law School told the Daily News.
Ortega receives a federal Section 8 subsidy that covers more than half the rent for her flat in a private building in Sunset Park.
Under the aid program, which is administered by NYCHA, Ortega is required to sign an income verification form that gives the city agency permission to perform a search of Social Security records
But Ortega’s mental and physical condition has dramatically worsened in the past year and she is no longer able to sign her name, according to the suit.
Ortega’s daughter Ada Aviles signed the verification form for her mother, but a NYCHA caseworker noticed the signature was different from the documents Ortega signed in the past. Aviles is her mother’s principal caregiver, cooking her meals, bathing her and shopping and cleaning for her mother, the suit says.
NYCHA was provided with documentation that Ortega’s only income besides food stamps is a $797 payment from Social Security, which is transferred to a cash card administered by her daughter.
But NYCHA responded that was insufficient and advised the daughter to seek court-ordered appointment as a legal guardian for Ortega.
NYCHA sent Ortega a “notice of default” on Nov. 16, 2012, informing her that the Section 8 subsidy would be terminated for failing to supply the required form.
“What’s ridiculous about this situation is there’s no question she should get these benefits, but they want her signature on the form,” Diller said.
“You need to accommodate people with dementia or Alzheimer’s and the answer is not to clog the court system with guardianship cases,” she said.
NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback said in a statement: “The New York City Housing Authority is scheduling a hearing at which all of the issues may be resolved. In the interim, NYCHA will not terminate the subsidy and we are working with the family and their legal counsel to come up with a solution.”
The suit seeks relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act, accusing NYCHA and its chairman John Rhea of discriminating against Ortega based on her handicap.
It asks Federal Judge Eric Vitaliano to order NYCHA to accept alternative proof — other than her signature — of Ortega’s eligibility for the Section 8 subsidy.