NYC and Newark agree to temporarily suspend controversial homeless relocation program

December 10, 2019

Photo of Newark, NJ by Paul Sableman on Flickr

Update 12/10/19: After a long negotiation in federal court on Monday, Newark and New York have agreed to suspend the SOTA Program, Politico reported. “In the spirit of productive conservations and with the goal of moving toward an improved program, we will be temporarily pausing placements in Newark,” de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement. New York City will also send Newark a list of participants of the program and their addresses once an agreement is reached. 

Newark officials are suing New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio over the city’s controversial Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) Program that provides homeless shelter residents with free rent for a year if they leave NYC. More than 2,200 families have been placed in 62 New Jersey cities through the program, with over half ending up in Newark. Recent investigations have found that some families end up in “illegal and uninhabitable” apartments and are essentially forced to become dependent on Newark social services. The lawsuit was filed in federal court Monday, as first reported, just weeks after Newark passed a law to make the program illegal and ban landlords from taking more than a month’s worth of subsidized rent.

“Newark is concerned about the living conditions of perhaps one thousand or more SOTA recipients,” the lawsuit states. “From the small sample of SOTA recipients that Newark was able to identify, Newark has become aware of families, including those with infants, that are living in uninhabitable conditions.”

The papers cite problems with a lack of heat, electricity, excessive vermin, and other dangerous living conditions. New York officials are required to inspect the apartments before tenants move in but Newark officials claim that doesn’t happen and that NYC has failed to provide information about where the tenants are living.

Since tenants don’t have the ability to withhold rent, these issues continue to fester. In some cases, the lawsuit goes on to say, tenants have tried to reach out to NYC for support. “Families were told that Defendants either cannot or will not help because they are residents of Newark now,” the lawsuit reads. “It is, apparently, no longer the Defendants’ concern. Having nowhere to turn and unable to hold the landlords accountable, families have contacted Newark for help.”

The lawsuit names de Blasio and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks and alleges that New York is violating interstate commerce rules through the program.

“I believe, and I thought we were trying to work toward common-sense solutions, and I still want to work toward common solutions. That’s my attitude,” de Blasio said Monday night on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.”

“Human need is human need. We want to help people back on their feet. And that’s the whole origin of this program, is where is a place that someone can actually get a decent place to live. We will help them.”



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