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Fighting for Safe, Affordable, Stable Housing

The firm and The Legal Aid Society represent a class of tenants in a lawsuit against the cities of Newark and New York. The cities had sued each other over whether residents of New York City homeless shelters could relocate to Newark using rent subsidies funded by New York City’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program. Realizing that tenants’ voices are critical to resolving the dispute, the firm and The Legal Aid Society intervened on behalf of past and future tenants who are recipients of SOTA and wish to reside in safe and habitable housing in Newark.

New York City created the SOTA program in 2017 to help people living in homeless shelters obtain more permanent housing. Participants can receive a one-time grant of up to a full year’s rent, paid directly to the landlord, for use in cities across the United States. A significant number of SOTA participants have already moved or plan to move to Newark.

Newark alleges that New York City’s representatives failed to inspect prospective housing prior to approving SOTA grants, with the result that a number of SOTA recipients moved into illegal or uninhabitable apartments in Newark. In response, Newark amended its Municipal Code to impose certain inspection and reporting requirements on any agency or person that provides rental subsidies to tenants seeking housing in Newark. These requirements would protect tenants from being placed in residences that are not up to code and/or that contain dangerous and unlivable conditions. However, the ordinance also prevents any person from “knowingly bring[ing], or caus[ing] to be brought, a needy person to the City of Newark for the purpose of making him or her a public charge,” and imposes monetary penalties for violations.

After passing the ordinance, Newark sued and asked a federal court to stop New York City from placing SOTA recipients in Newark. The firm and The Legal Aid Society sought permission to intervene in this lawsuit on behalf of two groups of tenants directly impacted by the ordinance: The first group is composed of “SOTA-participant tenants who moved into untenable living situations outside of New York due to defects in the SOTA apartment review process”; the second group includes “SOTA- eligible tenants who wish to move to Newark but cannot because of conflicting terms in SOTA and the Ordinance.” In November 2020, the court granted our motion to intervene in the case.

The SOTA recipients we represent are asking the court to strike the portion of Newark’s ordinance that prevents SOTA-eligible individuals from moving to Newark, as it discriminates against these individuals based on their income and need of a subsidy and violates their constitutional right to travel. Like all tenants, SOTA recipients are entitled to secure, safe, and affordable housing, which many did not receive when placed in Newark. Therefore, the SOTA recipients are also asking the court to stop New York City from placing homeless New Yorkers in unsafe and uninhabitable housing, and to require New York City to establish and adhere to minimum apartment inspection guidelines.

Keeping Tenants Safe During a Pandemic
Courtesy of WCBS
Conditions in a Newark apartment