HUDSON COUNTY--On Wednesday, Tirzah Johnson, 8, excitedly told a reporter about her first day in a local school as she sat in a McDonald’s on Kennedy Blvd. in Union City -- just blocks from the North Bergen hotels where she, her sister and brother, and her mother have been staying for two months with the last of their savings. Now they fear they will soon become homeless, and their mother is concerned because the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services has gotten involved.
Danyse Johnson, the children's mother, received a federal Section 8 voucher from her hometown of Spokane, Wash. earlier this year. The house she had been renting under the voucher was foreclosed in August of 2011, forcing her to relocate. She had always wanted to attend school in the New York City area, and said her housing officer in Washington told her that her voucher was portable and she could use it anywhere.
She chose Hudson County, and her voucher was accepted by local officials. But was rejected by several landlords. Johnson finally found a two-bedroom apartment in West New York for $1,250 a month (not including utilities), and the landlord said he would accept her voucher.
That’s when the trouble started.
She said that the West New York Housing Authority told her she could not use the voucher. She said that officials told her she has to find an apartment for $1,200, utilities included, or the voucher would not be honored. Then, West New York housing officials began saying her application for a transfer of the voucher and been rejected, and one of them even notified DYFS about her situation, she says.
She also alleged that a top official suggested that the West New York landlord fill out paperwork to make it seem as though she was renting the apartment for $1,200, even if she was really paying more. She said that several landlords told her that the Housing Authority allows this all the time, even if it's illegal.
She was also put through a complicated "interrogation," she said, and at one point was left in the housing office with her kids as she was waiting for a staff worker to return with a booklet she had requested. She said that instead of giving it to her, the staffers left her waiting there, then simply turned off the lights. A maintenance worker then asked her to leave.
A kind West New York resident gave her money for nine more days in a hotel, but that money is running out. She is trying to look for apartments that meet the $1,200 (including utilities) requirement, and to find a landlord will accept her -- along with her voucher and her three kids. And it’s gotten harder now that she has to worry about losing her children.
For many more details on this story, pick up this weekend’s West New York, Union City, North Bergen, or Weehawken Reporter around town, or come back to hudsonreporter.com starting Sunday. Or you can e-mail reporter Gennarose Pope at email@example.com. If you can help Johnson and her family with donations or with contacts for housing, please e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Gennarose Pope