New York is sending its homeless all over Jersey, which is fighting back
The Big Apple has a solution for its homeless situation: Send them to Jersey.
Local government officials in the Garden State say the New York program is paying slumlords on this side of the Hudson to take the city's homeless families.
A federal lawsuit that the city of Newark filed this week against New York and Mayor Bill DeBlasio calls the program a "public nuisance."
Union County officials, meanwhile, said they are considering their own lawsuit against the program, which has relocated more than 50 families to Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Hillside, Union Township and Plainfield.
Overall, more than 2,200 families have been relocated to 62 New Jersey communities, with 1,198 in Newark alone, NJ Advance Media reported.
The Newark lawsuit claims "the defendants intentionally coerce individuals to leave New York City into uninhabitable, sometimes illegal, housing." The lawsuit also says that by being paid a full year of rent upfront, landlords have less incentive to fix housing issues reported by tenants placed by the Special One-Time Assistance program.
The New York City program, which provides one year of rent to relocated families, started in August 2017. According to the federal lawsuit, the SOTA program was modeled after a similar failed program in New York City that was suspended in 2011, as most participants of the "work advantage" program were not able to become self sufficient after two years.
Union County was added to the program as an out-of-city relocation destination without notice, county officials said Wednesday.
"Union County is coordinating a united effort by the impacted municipalities to bring this appalling practice to a halt as quickly as possible, and to seek reimbursement for any costs incurred. We will go to the courts if necessary,” Union County Manager Edward Oatman said.
“The families in the SOTA program are already in crisis, and it is heartless for New York City to move them around like so many pieces on a board game, forcing our local municipal and County services to shoulder the additional costs while brokers and landlords pocket the money,” Union County Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski said.
New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services City Commissioner Steven Banks is also a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Newark.
The lawsuit said that one woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had extensive rental problems in Newark, including a collapsed bathroom ceiling, failed heat and plumbing and a rat infestation. According to the lawsuit, the woman contacted city code officials, after which Newark said she would have to move because the building needed to be condemned.
Another resident in Newark, Sha-Kira Jones, was pregnant and had two young children when she enrolled in the SOTA program. According to the lawsuit, she said her first visit to New Jersey was a bus tour of properties in Newark, East Orange and Paterson. After Jones signed a lease for a Newark apartment, it began to have severe electrical and heat problems. The lawsuit said she contacted Newark code enforcement and was told that her apartment was an illegally converted attic.
Jones ultimately lost her job amid the housing problems, according to the lawsuit, which also gives accounts from three other women who were relocated to New Jersey under the SOTA program.
In response to the effects of SOTA, Newark adopted an ordinance on Nov. 18 prohibiting prepayment of a full year of rent because it leaves landlords with little incentive to fix issues for tenants. Newark landlords must now get a certificate of code compliance for each new period of occupancy by a tenant.
New York-based advocacy and service organization Coalition for the Homeless said Newark officials are also failing homeless families.
“New York City is not doing enough to provide homeless families with affordable housing in the five boroughs, nor is it giving enough long-term support to the families who are moving to Newark and elsewhere. But Newark isn’t innocent either," Policy Director Giselle Routhier said, arguing that the law that the city passed in response to New York's program "essentially outlaws having a history of homelessness, which is not only outrageous, but discriminatory and likely unconstitutional."
Routhier previously slammed the Newark ordinance in November for restricting landlords from receiving payment for a full year of rent upfront.
"The lack of affordable housing is a regional as well as a national crisis, and municipalities need to work together to solve it rather than dehumanizing those affected by it," she added. "Homeless families should not be caught in the middle of municipal bickering.”
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