Jersey City has officially filed a motion to become a party to a lawsuit against New York City’s controversial homeless relocation program that has located families in cities across the Tristate area.
Newark’s complaint, filed in federal court in December, claims New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the New York Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks coerced “unsuspecting families and individuals into moving into uninhabitable buildings with no support network or legal protections” through its Special One Time Assistance program (SOTA.)
The program provides one year’s rent upfront to landlords for those eligible through New York City’s Department of Homeless Services to move to housing immediately available within New York City or to other counties, states, and Puerto Rico.
Program critics claim that these people are often moved into uninhabitable homes and taken advantage of by landlords. When the lease is up, critics claim, many are again homeless, but now in New Jersey.
Newark’s suit claims that New York officials don’t tell them where the program operates, don’t inspect apartments before tenants move in, and tenants are placed in homes that lack heat and electricity and are infested with vermin.
Mayor Steven Fulop announced the city would join the suit in mid-December via Twitter. “We’re joining onto the lawsuit from Newark against NYC for pushing their homeless population to NJ cities (including JC) without communicating anything or providing proper support,” before the city filed the motion. “That @NYCMayor plan is not solving the problem, that is abdicating the responsibility.”
The motion acts as an official request to join Newark’s lawsuit.
In the motion filed at the end of last month by Jersey City, city attorneys note that Jersey City is in “the same or substantially similar position” as Newark.
“Due to documented failings in the SOTA program, residents were sent to Jersey City with the promise of habitable housing for one year based on the representations of brokers and landlords that coordinated directly with New York DHS,” states the motion. “This left these now New Jersey residents with little recourse, as they were at the mercy of potentially dishonest landlords, as they were unable to enforce any of the contract provisions, as the language drafted and signed was New York specific.”
The motion states the city was never informed of the new residents and “had no way to know that there were residents at risk of being mistreated by these landlords, because the information about the SOTA recipients placed in the city was not shared with any organization or agency within Jersey City.”
It also states that these new residents are living in homes that were not properly inspected, and the city was given no information so that they could contact these individuals to offer the city’s social services or inform them of their housing rights.
“Jersey City must be able to protect its residents and clean-up any public nuisance that was caused by the total disincentive to landlords to maintain their housing up to appropriate legal standards, due to the upfront payment of rent,” states the motion. “This program has infringed on the safety of all Jersey City residents, due to inadequate oversight, improperly designed paperwork and lack of oversight by New York City’s DHS employees. Jersey City must be able to protect its residents by conducting safety inspections at these properties, to ensure habitable living conditions.”
A total of 176 families have been placed in Jersey City according to NYC Department of Homeless Services records.
“Jersey City seeks the names of these recipients to confirm that their housing is habitable and to offer services to those who may need them in order to prevent homelessness,” states the motion.
New York City’s Department of Investigation (“DOI”), led by Commissioner Margaret Garnett, released an investigative report on the SOTA program in early December.
This report specifically details how the SOTA program led to homeless clients being placed in unsafe housing outside of New York City.
This includes placing recipients in housing units without valid occupancy certifications, without heat, and with insects and vermin infestations.
The DOI found that the SOTA program’s “lack of proper oversight and poorly designed paperwork” led to some families “living in squalor under the roofs of unscrupulous landlords, who collected tens of thousands of dollars in rental payments upfront from the city to provide these subpar conditions with little risk of accountability for their actions.”
Newark’s City Council adopted an ordinance in November that prohibits landlords from taking a full month’s rent upfront, effectively blocking the SOTA program.
New York City filed a countersuit against Newark, claiming the measure violates the constitution because it discriminates against people with low incomes.
“This reveals the true motive behind the ordinance: to wall off Newark from low-income people who currently live outside its borders,” the suit states.
The case is ongoing and is before the Honorable Madeline Cox Arleo. As of this writing, Jersey City’s motion to join the suit had not yet been granted.