NJ may try to stop NYC from exporting its homeless here
State lawmakers are again considering, though not yet acting on, a bill that would bar New Jersey landlords from accepting housing vouchers issued by governments in other states.
The idea stems from a year-old controversy about New York City exporting some of its homeless to other states. Newark sued, and other New Jersey municipalities also objected, but now the state’s largest city finds itself the subject of a class-action lawsuit over its refusal to accept the residents.
The Senate version of the bill advanced in February but hasn’t budged since. An Assembly committee heard testimony on the bill last month but didn’t vote.
Linda Flores-Tober, executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, said, “The intention of this is good. We need to take care of our own.”
Flores-Tober said New Jersey already has a shortage of affordable housing options as it is.
“At least we can prevent landlords of taking advantage of these programs, where they move tenants out from their own communities into New Jersey,” she said.
New York City operates a Special One-Time Assistance voucher program, designed to address a surge in homelessness. It used to pay a full year’s rent upfront – but sometimes to dilapidated homes where the landlords have no motivation to make repairs. It now pays rent on a monthly basis.
A year ago, Newark passed an ordinance banning landlords from accepting full-year vouchers and sued the city to block the program, and transfers were temporarily suspended as a result. This month, the Legal Aid Society filed a class-action lawsuit against New York City and Newark.
“Moving residents out of their neighborhoods and placing them is essentially dumping them into another state dehumanizes the person,” Flores-Tober said.
“Nothing could be more isolating than homelessness during a pandemic, and then to be cut off from one’s community where they draw support borders on cruel,” she said. “It’s just making them someone else’s problem and not even regarding the person.”
About a third of people in the SOTA program stay in New York but a majority do not.
Data obtained by New Jersey Advance Media from the New York City Department of Homeless Services showed more than 2,200 homeless families had been relocated to around 60 cities and towns in New Jersey. Nearly 1,200 went to Newark, 278 each to East Orange and Irvington and 176 to Jersey City.
Flores-Tober said the bill is one in a series of steps the Legislature should take to address housing challenges, along with bills giving tenants six months to pay back past-due rent and keeping eviction records confidential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we need in New Jersey is a full-blown, no-holds-barred to prevent tenants, landlords and the real estate market from collapsing into an abyss,” Flores-Tober said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.