IRVINGTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — First, it was Newark, and now more New Jersey towns are taking action in response to a controversial New York City program that relocates homeless families.
For nearly a year, CBS2 has been reporting on the forgotten families allegedly pressured to move out of city shelters and into dilapidated homes in New Jersey. The families are placed in New Jersey by the city’s Department of Homeless Services under the Special One-Time Assistance program, or SOTA.
The city pays landlords one year’s rent up front, but CBS2 found some landlords providing housing with no heat or hot water and other problems.
Now, the mayors of four New Jersey municipalities are making governments like New York City notify them when families are moved there.
“We should have had more communication letting us know the situation that’s going on,” Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss said.
“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that in this uneven bargaining power that we leverage some part of the municipality to say at least it’s going to be a decent living space,” Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren said.
The Newark law requires housing enforcement inspect a home before it’s rented. It also bans subsidized rent vouchers for more than one month so landlords cannot take a full year’s rent upfront like they did in the SOTA program.
The ordinance takes effect in just three weeks on Dec. 14.
CBS2’s Lisa Rozner wanted to ask New York City officials how the SOTA program can continue to run in Newark, but no one would go on camera.
Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, later sent CBS2 the following statement:
“Cities must collaborate and find innovative solutions to our nationwide homelessness crisis. With more than 5,000 families helped so far, SOTA gives families the opportunity to seek permanent stability wherever they can find it, both within and beyond the five boroughs, and empowers them to make decisions that work in their families’ best interest. Denial of this opportunity amounts to nothing less than income-based discrimination. We look forward to working with other localities on proactive solutions to address these issues on the regional and national level.”
New York City Councilman Stephen Levin, who chairs the welfare committee that oversees DHS, released the following statement:
“Mayor Ras Baraka’s decision to restrict the SOTA program in Newark shows that our current system of housing homeless New Yorkers is not working as it should. People need to be housed safely and with access to their family and loved ones, not subjected to neglected apartments without adequate oversight. It our city’s responsibility to ensure permanent housing solutions for our neighbors; this administration needs to commit to more housing for homeless New Yorkers locally.”
Giselle Routhier, Policy Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, released this statement:
“People have the right to choose the community in which they wish to live, regardless of their economic status, source of income, or the level of government providing them with a housing subsidy. The Newark City Ordinance announced last week unlawfully targets homeless people, solely because of their economic status. It is an extreme overreach, and likely unconstitutional. As written, Newark’s proposed law would criminalize being poor and those who try to help the poor, making it even harder for vulnerable families to get back on their feet. Newark should start over and find a more reasonable and lawful approach to dealing with the concerns it has raised about New York City’s policies and New York City should address homelessness in a more effective way by actually creating more housing for homeless New Yorkers.”
Mayor Ted Green of East Orange told CBS2 by phone New York is still not telling him where some 200 residents are in his city.
“We don’t know until something happens, then that’s when we are alerted that this person came from that program,” he said.
“We wanna make sure that even after one year the tenant has the resources to maintain their apartment because it does us no good if after a year you’re homeless again,” Vauss said.
A Newark nonprofit says at least 15 families this year needed public assistance after one year’s rent ran out. The mayors say they want the opportunity support these families before they’re left out in the cold.