NEWARK, NJ — Newark has repealed an ordinance that some have dubbed the “needy person ban,” which was created as a reaction to a controversial homeless aid program in New York City.
On Tuesday, Lowenstein Sandler LLP and The Legal Aid Society announced that New Jersey’s largest city has rolled back a local ordinance that prohibited any person who moved or sought to move from a New York City homeless shelter to an apartment in Newark using funds from New York City’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program.
The program pays a year’s worth of rent for people living in New York City homeless shelters. Participants can choose to find a place to live in the city, or they can use the funds in another state – which many did.
After the SOTA program launched in 2017, more than 2,000 families relocated across the Hudson River to New Jersey. That includes about 1,200 who moved to Newark, city officials previously said.
But according to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the problem came when the year of free rent was up, and the necessary-but-taxing job of aiding the relocated homeless families fell into Newark officials’ laps. To complicate the situation, many SOTA recipients – including those with young children and infants – reportedly found themselves living in decrepit, unsafe housing once they got to the Brick City because of unscrupulous landlords, who let the properties’ condition lapse once they had their payments in hand.
In 2019, Newark also filed a lawsuit against New York City in federal court, which is still in litigation. Attorneys for both sides reached a temporary deal to protect homeless families caught on the sidelines while the lawsuit played out, with New York City agreeing to temporarily stop sending any more SOTA recipients to Newark.
Newark also passed a local law that imposed inspection and reporting requirements on any agency or person providing rental subsidies to tenants who sought housing in the city. But according to Lowenstein Sandler, the ordinance prohibited any person from “knowingly bring[ing], or caus[ing] to be brought, a needy person to the City of Newark for the purpose of making him or her a public charge” – which is illegal and unconstitutional.
In November 2021, Lowenstein Sandler and The Legal Aid Society spearheaded a class action lawsuit against Newark challenging the Needy Persons Ban – which they claimed was a big factor in the city’s latest decision to repeal the ordinance.
“The City of Newark’s ordinance, which deprived New Yorkers who seek to move to Newark for the benefits of the SOTA program, was patently illegal and immoral, and it endangered the well-being of our clients who seek to secure, safe and affordable housing,” said Josh Goldfein, an attorney with the Homeless Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society.
“We welcome this repeal which will afford our clients more opportunities to secure the housing they deserve, and we’ll monitor this development in the days to follow to ensure that the City of Newark abides by the law,” Goldfein added.
In 2021 – as in years past – Essex County led New Jersey in the number of homeless residents with 1,693 – about 21 percent of the entire state’s total. About 85.9 percent of those counted in Essex County lived in Newark.
Newark officials have recently made several moves to improve conditions for the city’s homeless population. According to Baraka, they include:
HOPE VILLAGE – “The city last year established an emergency shelter called Newark Hope Village, a safe sleeping village allowing the most vulnerable people to stay as long as 90 days and find the pathways to mental health, drug treatment and social services available to them.” See Related: Newark Transforms Empty Storage Containers Into Homeless Shelters
SCHOOL TO SHELTER – “Nearly one year ago, the city broke ground on converting the Miller Street Elementary School into a 166-bed transitional facility for men, women and families, complete with social and health services.” See Related: Newark Is Turning An Old School Into A Huge Homeless Shelter