Jersey City joins lawsuit against NYC policy that pays homeless families to move to New Jersey

Earlier this month the city of Newark, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio over a program called Special One Time Assistance (SOTA). SOTA is a program that gives one year of rent payments to families, either in New York City or nearby areas. The lawsuit alleges that NYC is effectively dumping homeless people into New Jersey, often placing them in run down apartments that in some cases don’t have heat, water, or electricity.

Initially, Newark wasn’t even sure how many families had been relocated because NYC wouldn’t release the numbers. When the lawsuit was filed, a spokeman for the mayor issued a statement comparing Newark to President Trump:

“In the face of a regional housing crisis, the City of Newark has inexplicably taken a page from the Trump playbook, building a wall to single out and prevent families from seeking housing where they want to live,” Cohen said.

Eventually a long negotiation session got the city to admit about 1200 families had been part of the SOTA program. However, a week after those negotiations New York City counter-sued Newark over an ordinance preventing landlords from accepting one year of rent in advance, effectively blocking the SOTA program.

New York lawyers say 34 families were planning to move to New Jersey’s largest city and now they can’t. They call Newark’s recent legislation unconstitutional, saying it’s discriminatory against people with low incomes.

Some 1,200 families have already relocated there from New York City.

Tuesday, Mayor Fulop announced that Jersey City would be joining Newark’s lawsuit: “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.” He added a shot directly at Mayor de Blasio, ” That @NYCMayor plan is not solving the problem that is abdicating the responsibility.”

Elizabeth, New Jersey has already requested to join the lawsuit and Yonkers, New York may join as well.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of this program to New York City. Mayor de Blasio has tens of thousands of homeless people to deal with and the SOTA program allows him to offload some of them to other municipalities. In a story two weeks ago about SOTA, the NY Times suggested that part of New York City’s problem is a legal obligation to provide shelter which has drawn people from other areas:

From August 2017 to August 2019, about 5,100 households moved out of the shelter system with SOTA vouchers at a cost of $89 million, according to data provided by New York City. More than a third of recipients use their vouchers in the city, but Newark comes in second, with about 1,200 recipients moving there…

New York is one of the few jurisdictions in the country with a legal mandate to provide shelter to anyone who is found eligible. That eligibility has drawn residents from other communities that do not offer the same level of service…

About 79,000 people currently live in a shelter or on the street in New York, up from about 64,000 the year before Mr. de Blasio took office, according to federal estimates.

New York City is trying to have it both ways. It wants to be a progressive city that guarantees shelter for the homeless, but it also wants to send thousands of those people elsewhere. Granted they are given money to cover a year of rent but as the local CBS affiliate has uncovered over the past year, those apartments often lack running water, heat, have rodents, etc. The city’s concern for those families is mostly limited to getting rid of them.