NYC agrees to limit how many homeless families it sends to Newark through voucher program

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By Dan Sears

The city of New York will limit how many homeless families it relocates to Newark under a program that New Jersey’s largest city alleged often left families in uninhabitable or illegal units, without any leverage to demand improvements.

The deal was reached in a federal court settlement between Newark and New York City officials last week, after Newark sued the city in 2019. Through the Special One-time Temporary Assistance program, sometimes known by the acronym SOTA, New York City pays a landlord rent for one year to house a homeless family.

Under the settlement, New York City will only move 28 families a year, or seven every three months, to homes in Newark. The city also agreed to share landlord information, addresses and inspection records with Newark every quarter.

The agreement will drastically reduce the number of families sent to Newark. Data previously obtained by Gothamist shows more than 1,300 families were relocated to Newark in the first four years of the program — the most for any place that received families outside New York City. The data also shows that between 2017-2021, about 50% of the more than 7,500 families who participated in the program were moved to New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, California or other parts of New York state.

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Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Social Services, which runs the program, said the settlement affirms the right of homeless families “to choose to relocate to any part of the country to pursue opportunities, including employment, education and stable housing, or reconnect with family outside of the city.”

Newark’s legal counsel didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

SOTA rolled out in 2017 as a way to alleviate the city’s homelessness crisis by finding permanent housing for families. To qualify, families must be working and have enough income to make future rent payments after the yearlong voucher expires.

But reporting by organizations such as CBS News and found many families were living in homes without any heat or hot water, and in some cases no certificate of habitability that allows the unit to be lived in. New Jersey municipal leaders said they didn’t know about the program until they began getting complaints about housing conditions from their new residents. New York City officials are supposed to inspect the units before a family moves in, but Newark alleged those inspections didn’t always happen.

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Newark attempted to block the program and later sued the city in 2019. New York City’s Department of Social Services agreed in 2020 to begin paying landlords month-to-month instead of the year’s rent at one time. The department also launched a hotline for families in the program who were having issues with their housing.

Sharma said the program is one of the city’s tools to transition families living in shelters to more stable housing. She said SOTA “is critical to ensuring that our clients can make the same choices as every other New Yorker who decides to move and resettle outside of NYC.”

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