A bi-state brawl has broken out over a controversial New York City program that provides rental assistance to homeless families looking to obtain permanent housing.
Earlier this month, Newark sued New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks over the city’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program. The initiative, launched in late 2017, relocates New York’s homeless families to apartments across the country with a full year’s worth of rent paid upfront to a landlord.
To be eligible for the program, a person must be in New York City’s shelter system for at least 90 days and have a source of income.
While some families are placed in housing within the five boroughs, more than 2,200 families have been placed in 62 New Jersey towns. Newark has seen 1,198 families relocate from the Big Apple under the program and says in their federal lawsuit that New York City is violating interstate commerce rules by coercing families to sign leases for illegal and uninhabitable apartments.
The suit alleges that New York City ignores tenant’s complaints about the apartments in which they are placed, issues that include “lack of heat, electricity, excessive vermin, and dangerous living conditions.” Newark also claims that New York officials are not letting them know where the program is operating and aren’t inspecting apartments before tenants move in, something SOTA requires.
NJ.com reports that neighboring Elizabeth joined the lawsuit the day after it was filed, with both cities seeking a temporary restraining order against the de Blasio administration to stop the SOTA program. NYC announced last week that they will temporarily pause the program for now while the two sides iron out details of an agreement.
That deal would include New York City providing Newark with a confidential list of persons who were moved to Newark under the SOTA program, along with their addresses. The two cities would then work together to inspect those apartments and homes for housing code violations.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has stated that the SOTA program puts a burden on his community and while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted to the New York Post that “there were mistakes” in the initiative, he chided Brick City’s officials last week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.
“My objection to what Newark has done [with the lawsuit] is they are demonizing the poor,” de Blasio said. “If there literally are not enough apartments to turn to — no matter how many we keep building, there’s just not enough — and it’s a right now program…we look to the region.”
A few other cities that have taken in families under the SOTA program, including Yonkers in Westchester County, are also considering taking action to end their participation. Late last week, Politico reported that New York City will create a helpline and crisis intervention hotline for those enrolled in the SOTA program that they hope to have up and running early next year.
The local battle over SOTA could continue raging, as NY1 reported on Friday that New York City plans to file a countersuit against Newark. Their argument would center around claims that Newark is engaging in income discrimination by challenging an ordinance the city passed in November that bans subsidized rent vouchers longer than one month, which effectively outlaws the SOTA program.