UNION COUNTY, NJ - According to a statement released today, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced that it is investigating all options, including legal action, to put an end to New York City’s practice of relocating homeless families from the city into Union County communities without notice and without support services.
More than 50 families are known to have been relocated from New York City to seven municipalities in Union County under the city’s “Special One Time Assistance Program” or SOTA.
The program provides one year of rent to relocated families but does not provide any other forms of assistance to families relocated outside of the city. The SOTA program commenced in 2017. Union County was added to the program as an out-of-city relocation destination, without notice, in August 2019.
“The families in the SOTA program are already in crisis, and it is heartless for New York City to move them around like so many pieces on a board game, forcing our local municipal and County services to shoulder the additional costs while brokers and landlords pocket the money,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski.
“Union County is coordinating a united effort by the impacted municipalities to bring this appalling practice to a halt as quickly as possible, and to seek reimbursement for any costs incurred. We will go to the courts if necessary,” said County Manager Edward T. Oatman.
So far the Union County municipalities reporting SOTA placements from New York City are Linden, Elizabeth, Rahway, Roselle, Hillside, Union Township, and Plainfield.
“If the City of New York is serious about collaborating on a regional solution to homelessness, then it must come to the table and collaborate instead of shifting the problem without notice or planning,” said Freeholder Chair Kowalski.
On Tuesday, Union County officials met with Mayors and other representatives from the seven impacted municipalities by conference call, along with state representatives, to discuss next steps.
Union County has also filed a request under New York City’s Freedom of Information Law to the Department of Homeless Services requesting a full listing of all individuals housed in Union County through the SOTA program. The request includes information for all 21 municipalities.
The SOTA program fails to account for social support services, counseling, employment assistance, medical care, and other costs. In particular, the program places new demands on municipal school districts. News reports have cited unsafe and illegal housing conditions as no procedures are in place to verify housing quality standards, contrary to normal protocols for supportive housing programs.
Families from New York City newly placed in Union County under the SOTA program do not qualify for social services because they have not yet established residency, potentially placing additional demands on local charities to fill the gap. The SOTA program also cuts off after one year, leaving homeless families on their own to continue paying premium rents in their present apartment or search for new housing.
In addition, local homeless families in Union County are reporting that landlords will not accept their housing vouchers, because the landlords stand to gain more by offering their apartments to relocated New York City families. The SOTA program involves a broker’s fee of 15% and thousands of dollars in bonuses for landlords in addition to a one-year rental guarantee.
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