Christie's blind spot on our most vulnerable | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on October 18, 2015

This isn't the first time his administration has mishandled people in crisis.

 

What a week this was for thousands of poor and unemployable people with disabilities, many of whom rely on oxygen tanks and wheelchairs or suffer from severe mental illnesses -- and learned they could soon be homeless, thanks to some bureaucrats who work for Chris Christie.

A state housing hardship program that had been paying most of their rent through vouchers is about to expire, and instead of arranging an alternative safety net -- as every other governor has done – his administration abruptly began cutting off their aid.

Some of the 3,000 people faced evictions and had hundreds of dollars drained from their bank accounts, because their rental vouchers suddenly didn't clear. It wasn't until late in the week, after initially defending its actions, that the state finally responded to the outcry from housing advocates and proposed a solution to buy these people more time.

That's a relief, but it's only a temporary fix. So count this as the latest example of the callous indifference of this administration, and its blindness to people in need — until someone calls attention to it.

It's the same attitude we saw with the victims of Hurricane Sandy. What's striking about this latest crisis, though, is just how unnecessary it is. The emergency housing assistance program these people rely on isn't ending because the money that supports it suddenly ran out. It's ending because the state says it's being redesigned.

The Christie administration wants to revamp the program because it's only supposed to be temporary. But the core reason these people are still enrolled in it is because there's no permanent place for them to go. How many first-floor, wheelchair accessible apartments are up for rent in New Jersey, on $750 a month in federal disability aid?

Public housing, Section 8 and other rental voucher programs all have years-long waiting lists. Telling impoverished people with serious disabilities to just find another place to live, without first identifying an alternative program to fill the gap, shows a total lack of awareness of the affordable housing crisis that Christie helped exacerbate.

He effectively shut down our state's program to create this housing and grabbed some of the funding intended to build it to plug his budget gaps. He is still trying to swipe more. And his attitude all along has been that affordable housing is a market problem, not a government problem.

But these people in crisis are the perfect example of why government needs to do more than just sit back and let the market take care of itself. There's a certain core group of people on welfare who will never be able to work. Would we rather send them out in wheelchairs, to beg in the street?

Christie has never had a real plan for affordable housing in New Jersey. The least he could do is make sure the most vulnerable people who need it are never left dangling in the wind.

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