On the night Natisha Sorzano, her husband Atiba and their two sons moved into a home at the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) Greenvale Park last August, they went to the nearby La Horquetta Police Station to let officers know they would be moving into the area.
“You hear stories about all kind of drama so I told my husband the same night we were looking to move in that we should go to the police station and let them know we got the documents (for the house) and that we are moving in because we did not want the neighbours to feel we are moving in illegally,” Sorzano said.
Sorzano said she showed the police the documents she had and was welcomed to the area.
The drama that Sorzano hoped to avoid more than a year ago literally came to her doorstep yesterday.
The family was yesterday evicted from #179 Alpha Avenue after being deemed to be occupying the unit illegally by the HDC.
Speaking to the T&T Guardian about the decision, HDC managing director Brent Lyons said the family (which he did not identify) was evicted after they produced documents that appeared to be fraudulent.
Lyons said HDC officials were in Greenvale as part of their programme to help residents in the area who were affected by the recent flooding, when it was realised a family was living at what should have been an empty house.
“On Saturday, November 3 and Monday, November 5, the HDC met with two of the occupants in an attempt to resolve the matter. In conversation with the occupants, it was clear that they were unable to substantiate their claims and all the documents which they presented, appeared to be counterfeit,” a release from the HDC stated yesterday.
“The HDC pleaded with the occupants to remove their assets from the property by Wednesday, November 7 before the HDC arrives to execute the eviction. On Wednesday, November 7, representatives of the HDC arrived on the site and removed the items.”
Lyons said because the house in question is on stilts it was not as affected others in the area during the recent flooding.
“The HDC has a zero tolerance policy in relation to illegal occupation and will continue to remove illegal occupants once they are discovered,” the HDC stated.
Yesterday, however, the Sorzanos claimed they were first contacted by the HDC in 2014.
“In 2014 they called us in for an interview and told us we were allocated to go to Greenvale, they gave us a readout and everything about what we would be paying and how much the house cost and all that drama but we never got any call back after that,” she said.
At the time the family was renting a house in Cunupia. But in 2017 the landlord, who was living in Venezuela, decided he was returning home with his family and needed the house.
“We went back into HDC, explained the situation and were told to go upstairs and meet a guy who would help us,” Sorzano said.
Sorzano said the officer helped them.
“Honestly, I genuinely think that the guy tried to help us, I just think he did not do it through the proper channels. He gave us documentation to move into the place, he gave us the unit number, the meter number, everything on it and told us to go ahead,” she said.
“We were also given documents to go to WASA and T&TEC and we are paying those bills in our name.”
Sorzano claimed they did not give the man who helped them any money.
“He never asked for a cent and we were told by people downstairs in HDC that he helps people so that’s why we went to him. So we were thinking if you helping people you know what you doing, he never took a cent from us and because of that we put more trust in him,” Sorzano said.
“Talking to the guy now, when we asking him about payment he said that he dealt with the PS (permanent secretary) and the minister about it, that they know about our situation and they are working on the documents, and that would have been the excuse ever since.”
Ironically, while the Sorzanos were spared by the flooding, it was because of the HDC’s attention to flood victims that their situation was unearthed.
Sorzano said an HDC official came to the home last Thursday and told them they were planning a meeting there. She said when they told the HDC officials they were living there, they were surprisingly told that according to HDC records the house should have been empty.
Sorzano said she and her husband went to the HDC’s Port-of-Spain head office on Monday to try and rectify the situation and were instead escorted out of the building. At that point, the HDC also gave them an ultimatum by Wednesday.
The HDC returned yesterday and carried out the eviction although they were not home at the time.
“We weren’t home and then we were told by the neighbours the HDC broke down our door and put all our things outside,” Sorzano said.
Sorzano said the family contemplated sleeping in their car outside the house last night.
“Even if I get somewhere to stay I don’t know where I’m putting all my stuff. I have a full house so even if I have somewhere to sleep tonight (last night) what am I going to do with all that stuff, I can’t just leave it there because people will try to steal it,” she said.
“So mostly like we will have to sleep in our car under the house or on the road to be able to monitor the stuff.”
Lyons: We cannot condone fraud
In an interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday, Lyons said the HDC had to take action yesterday.
“We observed them after the flood and we approached them and asked how come you are in this unit that isn’t allocated to anybody and they said that they had documents to prove that they were legitimately in the place.
“They attempted to provide some documents which all appeared to be fraudulent and they went on to talk about having paid somebody some money and so on we gave them an opportunity, one, to move out before we come and officially push you out and, two, to provide information on who you might have paid and what and all of that and we might be willing to consider and we had a follow-up meeting with them and they continued to just tell untruths,” Lyons said.
He said the HDC cannot appear to condone fraud.
“The issue really is here is somebody who is illegally occupying a unit that can legitimately be given to someone else and more than that, it appears that the transaction, from what we have seen thus far, appears to be fraudulent, so that in itself is another issue and we can’t be seen to condone that kind of thing. We have to take action against it and we have to shun that,” he said.
The HDC meanwhile yesterday established its Recovery Service Centre for Greenvale Park Residents affected by the recent flooding at #174 Alpha Avenue, five doors down from the unit the Sorzanos once called home.