NYC countersues Newark over controversial homeless relocation program

Updated Dec 17, 2019

New York City is countersuing Newark in an ongoing legal battle over a controversial homeless program, claiming that a new local rule banning the relocation of low-income families to the New Jersey city is unconstitutional and accusing Newark of trying to “wall off” itself from that demographic.

At issue is NYC’s placement of homeless families in apartments across the country with a year’s worth of rent paid up front. About 1,200 families have been relocated to Newark since 2017 to residences that had been undisclosed to the city. But Newark officials say those families are often left in uninhabitable conditions without any leverage to force repairs.

Newark took NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to federal court earlier this month to temporarily halt future relocations until both sides could work out a compromise. The lawsuit came after Newark outlawed the NYC program through an ordinance prohibiting landlords from accepting more than a month’s worth of rent from a subsidy or voucher program and prohibiting any party from bringing a needy person to the city for government assistance.

“This reveals the true motive behind the ordinance: to wall off Newark from low-income people who currently live outside its borders,” the counter suit, filed last Friday and first reported by CBS New York, states.

A spokesman for NYC’s law department called Newark’s lawsuit “baseless" and said the city’s ordinance discriminated against tenants using government assistance.

“Other tenants are not required to demonstrate how they will pay rent after their lease expires, as low-income tenants using government rental assistance are required to do. This kind of source of income discrimination is prohibited under New Jersey law,” the spokesman said.

“The ordinance is also unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of persons to travel from one state to another by making it unlawful for any person who relies on government housing assistance to come to Newark with the assistance of another person because of a concern that the person may become a public charge."

Kenyatta Stewart, Newark’s corporation counsel, called the counter claims “meritless.”

“We disagree with the thought of it being unconstitutional,” he told NJ Advance Media. “Newark has a legitimate reason for why we need protections to be put in place and it all comes down to making sure everyone is safe while they’re in the city and ensuring that people aren’t set up to be homeless.”

NYC’s special one-time assistance program has sent 2,226 families to 62 municipalities in New Jersey. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop on Tuesday said his city would join Newark’s lawsuit against de Blasio. Records show 176 families were relocated to Jersey City. Elizabeth has also said it plans to intervene in the case.

Last week in court, de Blasio’s lawyers agreed to temporarily stop sending families to Newark until a judge rules in the case or the parties reach a future deal. As part of the agreement, NYC will also tell Newark the addresses where families are currently living in Newark so both agencies can conduct inspections.

Stewart said Newark expects to get the list by the end of the week and inspections will begin in January.

“We’re going to continue to try to work with New York to see if there’s a way for us to move forward,” he said.

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