The Mayor of the city of Newark in New Jersey is taking his New York counterpart to court, over claims that homeless people are being coerced into moving into his city.
Ras Baraka and his administration have accused New York City’s Bill de Blasio, as well as its homelessness tsar Steven Banks, of using a programme designed to support homeless people, to move people over the Hudson River from the Big Apple to find somewhere else to live.
The Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) scheme provides one year’s full rent up-front for those eligible, to move within New York City, to other areas within New York State – or to another state.
Court papers at the US district court in New Jersey said that: “This case concerns an unlawful program of ‘coerced’ migration.”
The papers add that officials in New York City are forcing recipients of SOTA to accept offers of help very quickly by giving them an “offer they can’t refuse” – violating federal commerce laws.
Several residents from New York shelters report that they were rushed through tours of apartments in New Jersey, and pressured into accepting one on the promise their rent would be paid for a year.
The papers added that users of New York City shelters were told to look at New Jersey apartments in Newark and Paterson because “New York landlords were leery of the SOTA program”, adding they would be able to find something quicker in New Jersey.
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“From the small sample of SOTA recipients that Newark was able to identify, Newark has become aware of families, including those with infants, that are living in uninhabitable conditions,” the papers said.
“This includes issues with lack of heat, electricity, excessive vermin, and dangerous living conditions.”
Some residents claim to have reached out to New York City officials to complain about conditions, but have been ignored, meaning New Jersey has to step in.
Mr de Blasio has not responded to requests for comment over the lawsuit, but did tell the Inside City Hall show that he has spoken to Mr Baraka about the issue and wants to work towards a solution for homelessness.
Statistics show that one in every 121 people in New York City is homeless.