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Newark sues New York City over homeless housing program, demands changes

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A major change is coming to a controversial New York City program that relocates homeless families after a lawsuit filed by Newark city officials.

The Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program allows New York City officials to relocate members of the homeless population across the Hudson River into apartments in New Jersey cities. New York City officials paid landlords a year’s worth of rent upfront, but the people were often placed into substandard or unsafe homes.

A lawsuit filed by officials in Newark led to a suspension of the program there. The suit demanded changes be made to the program.

“One of the things we asked for in the lawsuit is, New York, please tell us who these people are and where they live. They’ve given us a confidential list,” says Gary Lipshutz, assistant corporation counsel for the City of Newark.

Now, with this list in hand, city code enforcement officers began checking on the SOTA residents living in Newark to make sure that their homes are up to code and are safe.

Beginning Feb. 1., New York City officials will also pay the SOTA landlords month-to-month, instead of a lump sum.

“If you don’t have heat, there’s no way to withhold the rent, then the landlord may not respond to your phone calls,” says Lipshutz. “But if the landlord’s pocket is felt, because they don’t get monthly rent, then they may be more inclined to take care of the head, the rodents, the leaking pipes.”

Newark's corporation counsel calls these recent changes “progress,” but says that there is still a lot to be worked out. They say that they want to see more support for the SOTA residents during their lease and then after their placement is over.

“What to do when the lease ends. Is there going to be support at the end of the term? And we’re trying to talk about changes to the program to make sure that at the end, this is going to be a success. We want to put these people in a place where they will succeed,” Lipshutz says.

Newark's lawsuit against New York is still pending, as both sides continue to work toward a solution. Other cities, including Jersey City, are looking to join that lawsuit and also halt new placements through the program.

New York City officials are working toward creating a hotline that residents can call for issues moving forward.

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