PATERSON, NJ - The City Council voted to table the city’s buyback resolution until July. The decision came after hearing the cries of local residents and concerns posed by several council members.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and the Environmental Protection Green Acres program awarded Paterson more than $5 million for the city’s Northside Buyback Program. The program allows the city to purchase private properties from owners for developmental opportunities.
For weeks, homeowners near the Passaic River have poured into council meetings, asking for answers about the city’s plan to buy properties. Struggling owners are being denied the opportunity to sell their homes to the city, and the money is instead going to the purchase of vacant lots, according to residents.
Community Development Director Lanisha Makle, who received a vote of no confidence from the council, says the city plans on using the property acquired through the program to create a park.
The city contends that everyone was given an equal opportunity and the decision of what property to buy was strategic.
“The whole purpose of the property acquisition program is to create open space,” said Makle a week prior. “You cannot create open space if you skip lots.”
But residents and council members say the selection is sporadic, with properties on the same block skipped over for consideration. Residents argued that it doesn’t make sense to buy empty lots over owners who can no longer afford to maintain their homes because of flooding from the Passaic River.
Pastor James Staton said the selection process has been unfair from beginning to end. He says many of the residents were not even notified of the program in enough time to meet the application deadline.
“It’s been said that the first ward is just a dumping ground,” said Staton. “We don’t have a problem with a buyout program, we just want it to be fair.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not distinguish between the purchase of empty lots and homes, according to Mackle.
“Ultimately, yes, you’re suppose to get people out of harms way,” Makle said. “ But the goal is acquire continuous lots.”
Teresida Andrade, a homeowner on Hillman Street, was told that her home did not qualify for purchasing when she filled out an application. The single mother of four says her home is infested with mold, a result of flood damages caused by Hurricane Irene two years ago.
“I’m frustrated,” said Andrade. “ I want to leave the house but [as a] single mom? How can I leave? I don’t know where I should go.”
Andrade was not told why her home did not qualify for purchasing and was not given a written denial letter, but was told verbally.
“At the very least, residents should receive something in writing, not a verbal rejection,” said Councilman Andre Sayegh. “That’s something we should investigate.”
The council has repeatedly asked for reports listing the criteria for eligibility, but to no avail, according to the council. They are still unsure of how properties where selected and have not received adequate information concerning the program.
In addition to other lacking detail, Councilman Ken Morris questioned whether or not the city has investigated if the selected properties have outstanding tax liens. If the properties are not caught up with their taxes, taxpayers will have to pick up the tab, according to Morris.
"There are so many unanswered questions here that I feel need to be answered so we can do this responsibly,” said Morris.
Complaints from residents and unanswered questions were enough to sway the council to postpone voting on the resolution until July 16. Council members say they are going to need more information from Community Development to pass the resolution in the future.