De Blasio denounces suit from New Jersey over homeless relocations

Access to Counsel for Newark tenants
Mayor Bill de Blasio has been challenged in federal court by his Newark counterpart, Ras Baraka, regarding a homeless relocation program. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office/Flickr)

Mayor Bill de Blasio denounced a federal lawsuit launched against his administration by the city of Newark on Tuesday that claimed his administration is exporting homeless residents to the Garden State without caring about where they wind up living.

The city of Newark is attempting to stop the de Blasio administration’s Special One-Time Assistance program, claiming that promises of paying a year’s worth of rent up front lure many homeless New Yorkers into moving into subpar living conditions on the other side of the Hudson River.

De Blasio, however, sees Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s lawsuit as a deflection away from the human element of resolving homelessness, as he explained during his Monday appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall. He did not acknowledge the facet of the lawsuit which alleges families are forced to accept unsafe living conditions.

The suit filed Monday in Newark federal court claims the city failed to inspect apartments before placing people.

“First of all, we’re dealing with a homeless crisis that’s a human reality. These are human beings who we are trying to help not be on the street and not be in shelter and have some kind of better life,” de Blasio said. “Whenever we’re trying to help people in need, we want to make sure that their circumstance is appropriate and this is something that’s been always a challenge to make sure you’re getting what you expect to get for those rental vouchers and make sure things are handled right. So we want that and that’s something we would want to work with Newark on productively to resolve.”

De Blasio added that cities such as Newark are often the only choice for voucher recipients as many landlords in the city do not accept them.

“We know the problem in New York City increasingly is even when people have vouchers there’s no place to use them,” de Blasio continued.

In response to de Blasio’s comments, Mark Di Ionno, interim director of communications for the city of Newark, said the two will meet in person — and until then, no public statements will be made on their part.

“At this point, Mayor Baraka and Mayor DeBlasio are making plans to meet to discuss the situation,” Di Ionno said. “The date is undetermined and Mayor Baraka would like to withhold any comment until after that meeting takes place.” 

Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, criticized both city administrations with the argument that a solution to the crisis begins and ends within city limits.

“New York City is not doing enough to provide homeless families with affordable housing in the five boroughs, nor is it giving enough long-term support to the families who are moving to Newark and elsewhere,” said Routhier. “The lack of affordable housing is a regional as well as a national crisis, and municipalities need to work together to solve it rather than dehumanizing those affected by it. Homeless families should not be caught in the middle of municipal bickering. Both cities need to increase the affordable housing supply for low-income and homeless families.”

Meanwhile, the fight in Albany for better tenant protections continues.