Bill Gates just chose 10 cities to invest in and one of them is in N.J.

Posted Jun 18, 2019

Newark’s newest initiative to provide free legal help for low-income tenants facing evictions is getting a major boost from three of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group announced Tuesday they were investing $12 million in 10 cities -- including Newark -- to promote economic mobility. Newark, the only city picked in New Jersey, will focus on affordable housing and reducing evictions.

“We’re honored to be part of this, they are highly selective,” said Natasha Rogers, Newark’s Chief Operating Officer and Interim Deputy Mayor.

Newark will not get a direct share of the $12 million initiative but a group of five consultants (who started June 3) from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team are providing consulting services and technical assistance for 18 months. The city launched its new Office of Tenant Legal Services earlier this month so a bulk of the resources will be directed toward ensuring the program is successful and efficient.

“While we’re focused on hiring the legal providers and getting funding sources for that, they’re focused on the intake process: is that what it needs to be, and your database, your compliance,” Rogers said.

"We can make better decisions based on information and data. Because we’re all from here or most of us are, we have this very kinetic, familial relationship that affects our decision making and I’m not saying that’s bad but what I am saying ... sometimes when you look at the data, it directs you a different way than what your heart says.”

About 38,000 evictions are filed in Essex County every year with Newark accounting for 20,000 of those. About 78 percent of Newarkers are renters. And when faced with eviction, nine out of 10 don’t have an attorney, city officials said.

Many cities are facing a decline in opportunities for younger generations to earn more wealth than their parents. While 90% of people born in the 1940s earn more than their parents did, now only half of children grow up to earn more than their parents, according to Opportunity Insights. And where you live often determines how likely you are to climb the economic ladder, studies show.

“This national initiative to increase economic mobility will be a critical tool in our work towards achieving economic justice,” Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement.

Maintaining safe and affordable housing has been a major initiative for Baraka as the city faces new waves of developments coupled with fears from longtime residents about getting displaced. Baraka also created a15-member anti-gentrification commission late last year to oversee the city’s development; the city council approved its members on Tuesday.

Rogers said being able to use the resources and expertise from the philanthropic groups will make a lasting impact in the city, which is one of three in the country (New York and San Francisco are the others) to offer free legal representation to tenants.

“Within 18 months, this will probably be one of the strongest offices in the country,” she said.

The other cities picked for the initiative include: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cincinnati, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Lansing, Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; Racine, Wisconsin; Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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