What to Know
- Newark Mayor Ras Baraka criticized a program that provides a year of free rent to homeless New Yorkers, saying it is flawed
- Many of the program's participants end up in "uninhabitable" apartments in Newark, placing a "burden" on the city, he said
- Responding to the allegations, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had already moved to deal with the issues, calling them "unacceptable"
A program that provides a year of free rent to homeless New Yorkers lands many of its participants in “uninhabitable” apartments in Newark, the city’s mayor says.
New York City’s “Special One-Time Assistance program,” known as SOTA, “provides one year’s full rent up-front for eligible Department of Homeless Services clients to move within our outside New York City,” its website says.
Many of those clients, however, end up in unlivable Newark apartments, some of which have been illegally converted by their landlords, Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement.
The program places a “burden” on the city and “benefits negligent landlords…. [making] an already vulnerable population susceptible to being homeless again,” he added.
“When one year of rent expires, participants are abandoned without support from New York City and left to become dependent upon Newark social services,” Baraka claimed.
The mayor called on New York to inspect the apartments participants move to, give them the option to return to New York City and receive services if they can’t keep paying rent after a year, and start paying landlords on a month-to-month basis instead of providing a year’s payment up front.
At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he and DHS Commissioner Steven Banks “moved to stop” the problems after they learned about them, calling the conditions Baraka described “unacceptable.”
“[Banks] knows it’s unacceptable — he would never be party to anything like this himself, given his decades of being an advocate for the homeless,” de Blasio said. “The concept of helping people to get to a place that is right for them is a good policy, but not if it involves unacceptable housing.”
Program participants who end up in New Jersey are there because they’ve chosen to move there, de Blasio said. The entire program operates on a voluntary basis, he noted.
Asked about program participants who allegedly felt pressured to move, de Blasio said no one was “pressuring” them.
“We’re giving them an option,” he said. “And if they don’t take that option, they remain in our shelter system.”