Thursday, October 27, 2011

ACY Rescue Mission joins amended suit, seeks $2M reimbursement

This afternoon, we filed new and expanded court claims on behalf of Ocean County’s homeless against Lakewood Township and Ocean County.  As you know, Lakewood began the lawsuit by seeking to eject the community of approximately 70 homeless men and women, including victims of the economy, living in the Lakewood tent city on publicly owned land in the woods.  In addition, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission has now sided against Lakewood and Ocean County, including claims against Lakewood and the County for, collectively, in excess of $2 million:  the costs that the Mission contends it has wrongfully had to bear to provide emergency assistance to residents of Ocean County and Lakewood.
Among other things, the court filing today (an Amended Answer, Counterclaim and Third Party Complaint) alleges that Lakewood and Ocean County have violated New Jersey’s General Poor Laws by turning away thousands of men, women and children who sought emergency shelter and other emergency assistance.  The filing also alleges that Ocean County has engaged in systematic, improper “interpretations” of other laws, the Specific Poor Laws, and wrongfully denied emergency shelter under those laws.  A copy of today's court filing is attached.  The main defenses to Lakewood's Complaint start on p. 5, and the claims against Lakewood and the County are on pp. 8 - 34.
In addition, as you already know, Lakewood has now -- more than a year into the litigation, with the winter approaching -- filed a motion asking Judge Foster to declare that Lakewood can force the homeless out of their tents in the woods, even though we contend that there is no available shelter for them in Ocean County. Once again, the hearing on Lakewood's motion is scheduled for Friday, November 18th at 9 a.m. at the Superior Court of New Jersey, 100 Hooper Avenue, in Toms River.
Jeffrey J. Wild
Member of the Firm
Lowenstein Sandler PC
65 Livingston Avenue
Roseland, New Jersey 07068
Tele:  973-597-2554
Fax:  973-597-2555
1251 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10020
Tele:  212-262-6700
Fax:  973-5970-2555

The DCA Nightmare Continues: Another Round of Proposed Rules

from Fair Share Housing Center by Adam Gordon

Following last week’s injunction on the Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) unlawful interim rules implementing Governor Christies’ Reorganization Plan involving the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), we have learned that DCA now intends to propose yet another set of procedural rules. We have obtained copies of the rules and write now to share our analysis of them.
We note that these are the third set of rules in six weeks to come out of DCA since it took over COAH’s responsibilities. The Christie Administration promised to make the COAH system simpler, and “end the COAH nightmare.” Instead, they are creating a new DCA nightmare — a dysfunctional system with ever-changing rules that undermines the creation of homes and jobs in New Jersey and threatens both non-profit and for-profit developers of modestly priced housing. This system, with no standards, no public process, and no accountability, doesn’t work for anyone but a select few town officials who are politically connected enough to get the outcome they want out of a closed door process.
The proposed rules themselves do not explicitly acknowledge that they are intended to further Governor Christie’s political goal of dismantling the Mount Laurel doctrine, but one does not have to dig too deep to see that is the case. Most of the amendments are intended to reduce the transparency of the process while giving local officials that the administration politically favors the power to do what they want. Likewise, the rules play into the propensity of some public officials to use public funds for their own purposes.
For instance, a proposed new rule involving economic feasibility provides a process for developers looking to reduce their housing obligations to “submit a request for determination of economic feasibility to the Department in a form to be prescribed by the Commissioner.” The rule requires developers and municipalities to submit extensive information and then provides that “the Department shall make a determination on the economic feasibility of providing the required set-aside.” It is not clear what that “determination” will be based on though because there are no standards included in the proposed rules. What good is a regulation if it doesn’t tell you what the law is? DCA has claimed that its goal is to “foster greater predictability for all players in the affordable housing arena,” but a standardless rule is anything but predictable. And the absence of standards also makes the process ripe for politicking. Do friends of the Governor get a better deal? Perhaps municipalities that want to sink a development can advocate for developers to get a higher, infeasible set aside. In New Jersey, these are not just possibilities; they are probabilities.
Similarly, under the proposed rules, spending plans are not required to be approved by the governing body through a resolution, but rather can be approved upon the submission of a letter from the municipality. With hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in municipal trust funds, how could anyone think it is a good idea to authorize a single person to approve expenditures for a municipality? Why would the administration adopt such a relaxed procedure when governing bodies otherwise approve municipal budgets and municipal expenditures? In a state with as much corruption as New Jersey, this proposal is a recipe for indictments, not an effective approach to spending trust funds.
The proposed rules include numerous other changes, such as shortening the time for the public to oppose actions taken by municipal governments; eliminating the requirement for decisions to be made at public meetings and instead allowing them to be made behind closed doors whenever the DCA Commissioner desires; and welcoming waivers of regulations with the goal being to give municipalities whatever they want.
“The only thing worse than a dysfunctional COAH is Chris Christie running the show,” we told the Star-Ledger when the first of the now three versions of rules were proposed. So far, our statement has proven right. The hyper-politicization of every housing decision and ever-changing rules may work for the well-connected, but it doesn’t work for New Jersey.
The good news is that because of our court victory last week, these rules will have to go through a public notice and comment process instead of being implemented without public involvement like the last two sets of rules were. We anticipate that the rules will be published for comment on November 21, 2011. Assuming that is the case, comments will be received for 60 days, through January 20, 2011. They will thus not go into effect until February or March 2011 at the earliest.
In the meantime, our court challenge to the reorganization and the prior set of rules continues, with briefing this fall and winter and oral argument scheduled for February 15, 2012. We also expect the Supreme Court to take up the pending case on growth share and the Third Round rules sometime in the next few months. Only these court decisions will resolve the DCA nightmare that has descended on our state. We will continue to keep this list posted as we have more information on any of these developments.
For those interested in reading the proposed rules, they are available here.

Small Steps Toward the Human Right to Housing in the U.S.

from Homelessness Law Blog

Affirming our presentation that homelessness is a social justice issue

Over the past decade and a half, the Law Center has been working hard to get the federal government to acknowledge housing as a basic human right and begin taking steps to implement its obligations.  As documented in our report, Simply Unacceptable: Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the U.S., for many years, the government was openly opposed to defining housing as a human right.  It came close in recent years, but didn’t quite get there.

Then, during last year’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), HUD stated for the first time the relevance of this human rights process to its domestic housing and homelessness policies.  Last week, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness issued its first-year assessment and update of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.  Among other items, the report states:

HUD has been working on a number of other activities over the past year that helps further the housing objectives in Opening Doors[.] In March 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) conducted the first comprehensive review on human rights done in the United States.  For the first time, the United States acknowledged housing as a human rights issue on an international stage. The Department of State, with the support of representatives from HUD, noted its support of the recommendation by UNHRC, which stated “broad range of safeguards for the homeless people to allow them the full enjoyment of their rights and dignity” and supports reducing and ending homelessness as a human rights concern.

This reaffirmation of the importance of the UPR in HUD’s and the Interagency Council’s work on homelessness is another step toward making the human right to housing the framework to which our government holds itself accountable.  While these words on paper don’t put homeless families in homes today, they are an essential step toward making sure those homes are created tomorrow, and that homelessness is prevented for more families in the future.

From my personal perspective as the Law Center’s human rights program director, this reference is a gratifying acknowledgment of the work we – and many others across the country – have been doing.  For years, pushing the human right to housing felt like banging our heads against the wall, with seemingly little progress.  But without those years, we would not have reached this tipping point, where it appears these references are beginning to build on each other.

Small words, but they represent a fundamental shift in policy. And as momentum continues to build, these words and values will help create that future where no one in America spends a single night without a place to call home.
- Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director

Pastor Michael Mazer's comments before the OC Freeholders Oct. 19

Our presentation to the Freeholders last Wednesday was to show that homelessness is a social justice issue, not a political issue.  The following are Pastor Michael  Mazer's comments to the Freeholders.

Rev. Dr. Michael M. Mazer, pastor of East Dover Baptist Church
974 Bay Avenue
Toms River, N.J. 08753

“I begin by thanking the Board of Freeholders for allowing me to speak this afternoon.

The subject of homelessness has been on your agenda for a number of years. The subject of homelessness in Ocean County has been the subject of news articles in our local paper, the Wall Street Journal, and even abroad as well as television coverage. More recently, you have given it a much increased focus. I want to commend you on the numerous efforts made to address homelessness and your willingness to hear us today.

It is a given that the problem of homelessness and the numbers of area residents that are just a mortgage payment away from becoming so is growing. I serve a congregation of eighty members. Some came to our church from a homeless situation. For a few, the fear of losing their home is very real. There are others who are active in supporting the residents living in “Tent City.” It is an act of grace and providence that we meet our financial obligations each week.

Whether we are speaking of my congregation or any other resident of Ocean County, the need to reduce and ultimately eliminate the problem of homelessness must be addressed.

To this end I believe we are heading in the right direction. This quote comes from the Ocean County Board of Social Services, “NO ONE SHOULD BE WITHOUT A ROOF OVER THEIR HEAD. EVERYDAY WE WORK TO MAKE CERTAIN OUR RESIDENTS DO NOT GO HUNGRY OR HOMELESS.”

To assure our residents that they do not go hungry or homeless will depend on a number of factors: availability of affordable housing, their location, access, and the availablity of other services promoting one’s wellbeing.

Having a place to call “home” is more than just putting a roof over one’s head. It speaks of the right each Ocean County resident has to live with a quality of life that includes a standard of decent health, the ability to get an education, the ability to secure employment, the ability to participate as productive member of society, to associate with their peers, and the privilege to vote on who will be their freeholder.

It is my observation that some of the strife and conflict stemming from the subjest of homeless has come from the approach to the subject. Perhaps we should address the matter of homelessness not as a welfare issue but as a resident’s rights issue. This approach will not in and of itself eliminate the problem. This approach will however consider the homeless in a new light. This approach will no longer cast homeless individuals as statistics and the objects of charity and help. They are people in Ocean County who deserve the same consideration and access to public services most of us in this room take for granted.

Let us assume that the Freeholders have done all that the state and federal laws allow. What barriers exist that keep the Freeholders from doing more? I would like to think that we expect more from ourselves than just meeting a basic and arbitrary minimum standard. We are Ocean County and we expect to strive for the best and to live at our best.

If you are of the mind to do more for the residents of Ocean County but find yourselves tied by the law, tell us what is needed to change the law and guide us in this process. We want to help you help the entire constituency of Ocean County.

I conclude by thanking you again for allowing me to speak to you on this subject. Rest assured that there are many people in addition to those of here this afternoon who want to help you and work with you on addressing and ultimately ending the problem of homelessness in Ocean County. Please accept our offers of help and support.You will feel better about what we are able to accomplish together. You will feel better about yourself and you will sleep in perfect peace tonight. Thank you.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lakewood seeks to eject the homeless

As it threatened at the last status conference, Lakewood has filed a motion to shut down the Lakewood Tent City.  A copy of the motion papers is attached.  The hearing has been scheduled for Friday, November 18th at 9 a.m. at Judge Foster's courtroom at the Ocean County Courthouse, 100 Hooper Avenue, Courtroom 7, in Toms River.  Please mark your calendars and spread the word.  As many of us as possible should be at the November 18th hearing to show that we care about the residents of Tent City and all of Ocean County's homeless.  The date/time could change, and if so, we will let you know.  We will also be in touch about other ways that we can take action to help not only those in Tent City, but all of New Jersey's homeless.
Basically, Lakewood is arguing that even though they are members of the public with no place to sleep but the public woods, the homeless are "trespassers" whom Lakewood has the right to remove.  As stated in a footnote (on p. 1 of the legal brief), Lakewood "is not seeking the immediate ejectment" of the homeless -- but is seeking a court order "that no new persons are permitted to occupy the Property" and for "an orderly vacation of the Property by the Defendants" -- whatever that means.   This law firm will prepare papers to oppose the motion.  Stay tuned for further information.
 Jeffrey J. Wild Member of the Firm Lowenstein Sandler PC

Monday, October 24, 2011

Response to our Freeholder meeting proposal

I want to first say "Thank you" to the Freeholders for permitting us time during their Oct. 19th meeting to present some of what we have learned about homelessness.  This was the first time I can recall where we spoke to the whole board (minus one Freeholder who was on vacation.)

Following our 20-minute presentation about a dozen people spoke during the public portion of the meeting.  Freeholder Director Vicari was very gracious to all the speakers and showed them great respect.  With one lone exception all the comments supported the homeless and several supported enactment of the Homeless Trust Fund in Ocean County.  (See previous posts that detail the trust fund.)

We presented the homeless issue as a social justice issue, not a political issue, and had the support of many of the clergy in the area.  We sought to establish common ground between the county government and the supporters of the homeless.  Both the Freeholders and the activists are concerned about the well-being of all people in Ocean County.  Both groups need to identify to common areas and begin there.

We had a great mix of people (about 200, SRO) at the meeting., including the homeless, businessmen and women, the clergy, retirees and community service groups.

At the conclusion of our 20-minute presentation I asked the Freeholders for follow up meetings so that we could discuss further the issues the homeless face and discuss solutions to end homelessness in Ocean County.

I called the Freeholder's office Friday afternoon and was told:
The absent Freeholder would have to be briefed before a decision would be made;
The first Freeholder meeting after our Oct. 19th presentation will be this Wednesday, Oct. 26th at which time they will discuss ithe proposal with their attorney;
And  the attorney will recommend the Freeholders not discuss the homeless issue until pending litigation between the county and the homeless is resolved for fear that it would be used in the case.

I walked away from that decision still thankful for the opportunity to have presented our findings and looking forward to further discussions once the case was resolved.  But I also sought a second opinion about the Freeholders' decision.

I am certainly not an attorney and do not pretend to offer legal advice to anyone, including the Freeholders.  But I thought you might want to see what that second opinion said.

As I mentioned, there is absolutely no reason why the Freeholders cannot meet to talk about solutions to the problem of homelessness because of the Lakewood litigation.  To start with, by Court Rule, any such meeting, even if called a settlement meeting, could not be used against the county in any way.  The applicable court rule, New Jersey Rule of Evidence 408 provides as follows: 

When a claim is disputed as to validity or amount, evidence of statements or conduct by parties or their attorneys in settlement negotiations, with or without a mediator present, including offers of compromise or any payment in settlement of a related claim, shall not be admissible to prove liability for, or invalidity of, or amount of the disputed claim. Such evidence shall not be excluded when offered for another purpose; and evidence otherwise admissible shall not be excluded merely because it was disclosed during the settlement negotiations.

I still look forward to sitting down with the Freeholders for discussions to end Ocean County homelessness and hope we can do that very soon.  This has to be a collaborative effort and the first step is to talk.

Larry's introduction to the Freeholder meeting

These are Larry's opening comments to the Freeholders Oct. 19th.

Thank you for setting aside 20 minutes of your meeting to allow us to share what we have learned after years of studying homelessness and working with that community of men, women and children.
I am Larry Meegan, President of the Kiwanis Club of Jackson.  Among the people here today are other members of community service and non-profit groups, students, businessmen and women, the homeless, and members of the clergy.
From the very outset let me assure you that we are not here to be confrontational, nor are we going to present homelessness as a political issue.  Many people would not be here this afternoon if that was our goal.  Instead, we are here to discuss homelessness as a social justice issue and in the short time we have introduce you to the humanity of homelessness.
During the past year the community service groups hosted three forums that were attended by more than 500 people to put a face on the homeless, to examine programs that have been successfully employed around the state, and to gauge Ocean County residents’ willingness to assist the poor.
We learned that many people found themselves displaced and on the street through no fault of their own. We learned that there are at least three levels of homeless: the immediate need, the transitional housing, and low-income housing.  And we learned that there must be a collaborative effort involving government, business, and the community to deal with the issue.
Efforts are being made to remedy the needs of the homeless but despite those best efforts, a lot of people are still slipping through the safety net.  Not only do we see it, the County Board of Social Services also calls attention to the fact that it does not have the resources to meet those needs.
From their letter “A Gift of Shelter,” the Board writes that the dollars they receive are sometimes not enough to take care of everyone.  “In these difficult economic times, more and more of our neighbors are finding it hard to make ends meet some unique needs that may otherwise go unmet.”
“No one should be without a roof over their head,” the letter concludes, “and every day we work to make certain residents do not go hungry or homeless.  Your donation will help our continuing efforts to assist our neighbors who need help now.”
There is a need for more resources, both money and a volunteer workforce.  Our speakers will address that and for the last two minutes I will close our presentation with an offer that will demonstrate our commitment to our neighbors and our county.
Our first speaker is Steven Nagel, Director of InfoLine in Middlesex County who will share their success story.  Next will be Lynn Swett, who following divorce suddenly found herself a single mom living in a tent.  Tracy Boyer will discuss the Housing First model and tell you how it has saved Mercer County thousands of dollars per homeless client. Pastor Mazur will discuss housing as a social justice issue and I will wrap it up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meeting with the Ocean County Freeholders

Supporters of the homeless in Ocean County will meet with the Freeholders at this coming Wednesday's (Oct. 19th) meeting. We will have 20 minutes during the meeting. Those who we cannot fit into the 20 minute span can address the Freeholders during the public portion at the end of the meeting.

Our purpose for the meeting is two-fold: to present what we have learned over the past couple of years by examining what has been successfully tried in the state; and to offer our assistance to work with county government to end homelessness in Ocean County.  The most basic similarity both the county officials and our coalitions have can be taken from a letter published by the Ocean County Board of Social Services: "No one should be without a roof over their head and everyday we work to make certain our residents do not go hungry or homeless." (Excerpted from OC Board of Social Services, "A Gift of Shelter.")

Your presence at the Freeholder's meeting (Wednesday) will demonstrate the public's support for the homeless.  You do not have to make a statement, though as with Freeholder meetings there is time for public comment (limited to 5 minutes) at the end of the meeting.

And while it is not my place to tell people what to say, our intent is not to make this a political issue but rather one about social justice.  Let us lay out our findings and recommendations and make an offer to continue the dialogue.

I know there have been several false starts attempted with individual officials in the past, but I think this is the first time we will have made a presentation before the whole Board of Chosen Freeholders. Call me naive but I think this may signal a willingness to confront homelessness cooperatively.  Several sides have expertise in various facets of the solution.  Let this be an opportunity to start the discussion.

Thank you for your attention in this matter.  I hope to see you at Wednesday's meeting (first floor of the OC Administration Building on the corner of Hooper Av & Washington St. @ 4 p.m.  Free parking is available in the 5-story garage behind the Admin Building, accessible from Hadley Avenue.)

And (with apologies to those who differ with me on this, I mean no offense) please pray for the outcome of this meeting.

Some Local Solutions to Homelessness

Despite the hundreds of homeless or at-risk families assisted by the Ocean County Board of Social Services every year with state and federal funds, and in spite of the best efforts of many non-profit charitable organizations dedicated to helping the homeless and others in need, the problem of homelessness has not been resolved and continues to grow.  In a recent survey of agencies and organizations, the Ocean County Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) Planning Committee to Address Homelessness identified the following as the greatest gaps in the service delivery system:  affordable housing, transitional housing, emergency shelters and transportation. 
This document identifies some possible ways to fill those critical gaps. Most of them reflect the “housing first” approach endorsed by the federal and many state governments, as well as by a large number of non-profits and other providers of assistance to homeless families and individuals.  “Housing first” relies upon the placement of  homeless people in long-term housing as soon as possible, without requiring them to complete or even begin programs aimed at resolving the underlying issues that have caused or contributed to their homelessness.  This makes sense, since involuntary homelessness is a housing problem, and can be solved by providing housing.  Once the individuals or families are stabilized, services are delivered as needed on an ongoing basis. 
A growing number of studies have found that “housing first” significantly improves the effectiveness of these services, and dramatically reduces the number of participants who become homeless again. Personal issues (economic, physical, mental, emotional, etc.) that, in certain individual, social and societal contexts can yield a host of negative outcomes, including homelessness, are most effectively addressed after a homeless individual or family has achieved a measure of stability in permanent, affordable housing.  Moreover, from an economic perspective the “housing first”  studies also find that employing “housing first” saves hundreds of thousands of dollars by significantly reducing the number of emergency room visits, police and ambulance calls, etc.
Emergent relief and homelessness prevention

·         Construct (or convert an existing building) to a permanent facility that provides emergency short-term shelter, intensive screening and service delivery, and rapid placement into voucher-subsidized permanent housing with appropriate services delivered on an ongoing basis thereafter.  Transitional units are also available on site if necessary.   [Model:  Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center]

·         Adopt a more direct “housing first” approach that uses motels/hotels for emergency help and moves families and individuals into permanent housing with services as soon as possible using vouchers. [Model:  Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness Housing First Demonstration Initiative]

·         Put resources into, and recognize by ordinance or resolution, the current “tent city” as a key source of both emergency shelter and transitional housing; allow it to construct additional on-site structures, as well as use trailers and other mobile facilities to improve its operation and become a permanent resource. (This could be accomplished on the present site or at another location.)  [Model:   Village of Hope/Community of Hope, Fresno, CA]    
Transitional/Short-term Housing

·         On –site transitional dwellings.  [Model:  Bergen Cty Housing, Health and Human Services Center]; improvements to “Tent City” [see above]; subsidized motel placement for those not eligible for other emergency shelter programs.  (The latter include working people, disabled individuals not on SSI, and others vulnerable households.)

·         Agency/organization rental of existing market-rate apartments throughout County for short-term use by people until they move to permanent housing [similar to other programs now in operation.]

Affordable housing and transportation

·         Increase the supply of rooming/boarding homes, efficiency apartments and other types of supportive housing, especially for those with mental/physical disabilities and substance abuse problems.    (For example:  construct or rehab small mid-size supportive housing  facilities operated by non-profits and located at scattered sites near bus routes; 15 such buildings containing  15 efficiency apartments would provide 225 permanent housing units.)   [Models:  Hamilton Supportive Hsg, Neptune; Eva’s Village, Paterson; State Street Program, Perth Amboy; Veterans Housing Project, Highland Park]

·         Locate manufactured homes in small clusters on scattered sites (primarily for families)

·         Obtain a dedicated number of federal or state housing vouchers; and/or increase supply of “ local” vouchers (for example, use of more federal HOME funds for tenant-based vouchers)  [Model:  Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness;  HOME-funded voucher program currently operated by OC]

·         Overlay zoning for small starter homes, accessory apartments, multi-family dwellings near bus routes, apartments above commercial structures or parking lots, etc.

Some possible sources of funding

·         Secure a dedicated supply of federal Housing Choice and state SRAP vouchers

·         Establish a county-based Homelessness Trust Fund as a long-term funding source for vouchers, rent payments, permanent housing, etc.   

·         Reallocate and pool current HUD grants (HOME, CDBG, etc.); access other federal/state/ local sources:  Special Needs Trust Fund (HMFA), other HMFA programs, federal Section 811 Housing program, local developer fee ordinances; sale of county/local bonds; etc.

·         United Way and other major charitable donors

Final thought:  a collaborative effort involving the County, all of its municipalities, the business community, religious congregations and other groups could implement some or all of these solutions in a manner characterized by scattered sites and widely shared responsibility.

Causes of Homelessness in Ocean County

 Homelessness is a tragedy for far too many families and individuals.  The negative physical, mental, emotional and educational effects of homelessness on children and adults – not to mention the overwhelming stress it puts on family life – have been well-documented.  And homelessness is on the rise in Ocean County.  On January 27, 2010, the date of the last Point in Time Count (PITC), there were 589 homeless adults and children in the County, an increase of 37%  since 2007. (The 2011 Point in Time Count took place on January 26, 2011.  Data from this count will not be available for several months.)  The PITC uses a very restrictive definition of “homelessness:” it only counts unsheltered people, people staying in homeless shelters, and individuals and families placed temporarily by an agency in hotels or motels.  Even under this definition, those responsible for the PITC concede that the actual number of homeless is anywhere from two to four times higher.  Notably, the PITC does not count the numerous homeless individuals or families paying their own hotel/motel costs, nor does it include those temporarily sleeping on a friend’s couch or doubled-up with family or friends.

Among the primary causes of homelessness in Ocean County are:

·         Unemployment, low wages and unaffordable housing costs.
o   The unemployment rate in Ocean County is approximately 10%.
o   In 2009, half of all private sector workers in OC made $18.45 an hour or less ($38, 430 annually).   One quarter of all workers made less than $11.70 an hour ($24, 330 per year.)  Wages have continued to stagnate of fall for many middle and lower-income workers.
o   The 2011 federal Fair Market Rent for an efficiency apartment in OC is $949 per month, for a one-bedroom unit it is $1097, and for a two-bedroom apartment it is $1339.
o   In order to be able to afford to pay the rent and meet all its other basic expenses, a family renting a two-bedroom apartment needs an income in excess of $50,000 per year (about $24 an hour.)  A single person in an efficiency unit would require about $30,000 to pay the rent and make ends meet.  A comparison of wages to rent clearly shows that many people are truly one paycheck or one major unexpected expense from homelessness.

·         The severe shortage of subsidized housing.   There is a severe shortage of subsidized housing in Ocean County, especially in relation to the need generated by low wages and high rents.  Only 3 out of 10 households who qualify for housing assistance can obtain it due to inadequate funding levels.   For example, there are thousands of households in OC on waiting lists for federal Housing Choice Vouchers, which help lower-income people pay their rent.  All of these waiting lists are closed.  Last resort housing – rooming homes, boarding homes and other single room occupancy and efficiency units – is in particularly short supply.  Between 2000 and 2009, OC lost 38% of its licensed rooming/boarding houses (from 45 to 28), and many more were lost in the previous decades.

·         Evictions and foreclosures.   Households facing eviction or foreclosure are clearly at risk of homelessness.  (In OC alone, more than 5,000 eviction actions were filed between 7/1/09 and 6/30/10, and another 2,500 have been filed since the latter date.)   Many lower-wage workers and others are just barely able to afford their rent or mortgage payments, even in good times.   Layoffs, downsizing, loss of full-time earnings, unexpected illnesses (especially if un- or under-insured), major car or home repairs, and other problems can be catastrophic for these households, as well as for the thousands of formerly middle class families deeply affected by the economic downturn.

·         Gaps in the “safety net.”  Only three categories of households are entitled to a meaningful period of state and federally funded emergency shelter assistance (EA).  The three categories are families with children eligible to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); adults without children eligible for General Assistance (GA); and disabled people or seniors receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI).   Hundreds of TANF, GA and SSI households throughout OC are able to avoid homelessness, or obtain shelter, because the EA provided to them through the Board of Social Services assists them with such things as several months of back rent payments, temporary placement in a hotel or motel, or temporary rental assistance for a limited period of time. 

All other homeless or imminently-homeless households are not entitled to emergency assistance.  Household not entitled include lower-wage workers, people receiving Social Security Disability or retirement benefits, those on unemployment, and others struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Example 1:   The monthly TANF grant for a family of 3 is $424, plus Food Stamps and Medicaid.  (In comparison, the monthly GA grant is $140; it is $210 for a person considered disabled.)  A mother with 2 children applying for TANF and earning $250 per week, or receiving $400 every other week in unemployment benefits, does not qualify because she makes too much.
Example 2:  A homeless person receiving the SSI maximum of $705 is entitled to EA.  A homeless individual receiving $800 in Social Security Disability benefits is not.
Those not entitled to EA compete for a limited amount of generally short-term help, often a week or a month or two.  Others are referred to charitable groups.  Many are unable to obtain any help at all. 

A program capable of providing somewhat greater assistance to those households unable to get EA is the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), administered in OC by United Way.  (This program, initiated with a fixed amount of federal stimulus dollars, is not permanently funded.)  From October 19, 2009 through October, 2010, more than 300 homeless or at risk families with children, and 50 similarly at risk individuals, were screened by the Board of Social Services and referred to HPRP because they were not eligible for or receiving TANF, GA or SSI.  HPRP was able to help 69 families and 2 individuals avoid homelessness or find housing after they were homeless.  Strict eligibility and assistance criteria prevented it from assisting any more of those in need.   (Referrals to HPRP are only a small portion of the households that the Board cannot assist.  Only those households that the screeners think might be able to meet the strict HPRP guidelines are referred to that program.)   

·         Poor credit (the almost inevitable result of inadequate income) criminal background checks that take no account of rehabilitation, discrimination against people of color or the disabled,  and other issues only add to the difficulties experienced by many people seeking apartments. 

·         One point bears repetition and emphasis.  Emergency and transitional housing, however critical, are by definition temporary.  Those families and individuals unable to find and keep safe, decent,  permanent housing that is affordable for the long term are at great risk of becoming homeless again. 

On moving day, hearts of new homeowners brim

Published on: September 22, 2011
Waldwick – The Habitat for Humanity condominiums on Wyckoff Avenue that were recently completed represent more than just a place to live for the four families who moved into them last week.
As they settled in, organizing and personalizing their new spaces, members of the families recalled their journeys from the moment they were accepted into the Habitat program — more than two years before, for some — to walking through the doors of homes of their own.
Each family was subjected to financial checks by both the Habitat organization and the state Council on Affordable Housing to enter the program. They were required to work alongside volunteers to achieve 400 hours of what Habitat calls “sweat equity” — hammering, tiling and painting inside and out.
On Sept. 10, their accomplishments were celebrated by borough and state officials, with the families receiving keys to their homes. The ceremony was followed by a three-hour picnic during which tours of the finished product were conducted.
The house – which the borough purchased for $260,000 and then sold to Habitat for $1 in 2009 – has two two-bedroom units; one three-bedroom unit and one four-bedroom unit.
Although the task of transforming the 1790s Dutch Colonial into four condominiums has ended, it marks a new beginning for the D’Annibales, Eliases, Herreras and Moores.
‘It’s overwhelming’
Before moving to 101 Wyckoff Ave., Sandra D’Anniable and her five children — Jamie, Alyssa, Grace, Rose and Kody — lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Waldwick.
Sandra slept on a twin bed with 6-year-old Kody on a daybed at her feet, although most nights, she said, he curled up next to her.
They ate meals perched on barstools at a round, white table with a surface only big enough to accommodate two.
“It didn’t really hit me until this week,” Sandra said, sitting in her new kitchen, running her hands over a kitchen table large enough to seat her whole family. A watermelon and other groceries cluttered the counters.
“It’s just been overwhelming. I kept saying, ‘It’s never going to happen,’ and then finally, like in the last two weeks, I said, ‘I’ll believe it when my foot’s in the door.’ So now that my foot is in the door, it’s overwhelming.”
As she showed off the house on Sept. 13, she said she felt like “one of the luckiest people in the world” as rents in Bergen County have kept multiplying and its affordable housing shrinking.
When asked what she could do now that she couldn’t do before, she answered, “Cook.”
She says she plans to host Thanksgiving dinner, now that she has an oven in which to roast the turkey.
She also was able to buy her first queen-size bed.
Each child has their own space, too. Kody’s room is blue and filled with dinosaur toys, the twins Grace and Rose share a room with bunk beds, and college students Jamie and Alyssa also share a room.
“It’s deceiving,” Sandra said about the size of the house. “It’s pretty big, but for me it’s huge.”
‘They changed my life’
Zaghara Lunette had a tough time studying for school in the cramped space she shared in Hackensack with her mother, Ibis Blain Elias, and grandmother, Floricelda Elias.
“We were really on top of each other,” Lunette said.
The 23-year-old is studying to be a teacher at Bergen Community College, but the noise from the TV in the family’s one-bedroom apartment often made it hard to concentrate.
The trio came to the United States from Cuba 10 years ago in what Lunette said was the result of her grandmother’s “ridiculous luck.”
“In Cuba, there are only two [visa] lotteries to get out of the country,” she explained. “It is unheard of for someone to win both of them — but she did.”
She also credits her grandmother’s luck for inclusion in the Habitat for Humanity program after years of searching for such an opportunity.
For her mother and grandmother, Lunette said, living in bigger quarters means not having to constantly dig into boxes for their things or pack away winter clothes. And despite the larger space, there will be more family bonding.
“I’m excited for the kitchen because we like to have our meals together and cook and my cat is going to be excited to have a place to play,” Lunette said. She intends to turn her own bedroom into an artist’s sanctuary.
“I don’t consider myself a musician yet, I’m a student of music, but for the longest time I didn’t have room to spread out, so with my [new] room it’s going to be, ‘What creative thing can I do with it?’ Whether it’s paint or practice dancing – the one thing you won’t notice is a bed. I’ll have a Japanese-style mattress.” Lunette, whose birthday was Sept. 12, said the spirit of the thousands of volunteers who worked on the house has been the best birthday present.
“Every time I go through the house I see the faces of people that worked in it,” she said. “[It’s one thing] to imagine the kindness of people but it’s a much different thing when you actually see the kindness of people and how much a little bit of kindness can do.”
“They changed my life,” Lunette continued. “Yes, they gave me a home, but the biggest thing they gave us is not physical. It’s in the perspective and wisdom that everybody shared there with us.”
‘This is home’
Tyrone and Patricia Herrera first heard about the Habitat house through an ad in the paper.
“It was hard to believe,” Tyrone said of the price it listed. “But if we were interested, [the ad said] they would be giving a two-day seminar in Hackensack.” That was in November 2009. A year later, the family got a call “welcoming us to the Habitat family.”
Tyrone and Patricia are moving with their three children — Henry, 18, Tara, 13, and Kelsea, 4 — from Tyrone’s mother’s house in Mahwah, where Henry’s room was a 9-foot by 4-foot storage space just big enough for a bed.
“I can feel free to walk around and watch TV if I wanted to without bothering anyone,” Tyrone said of the family’s new space. “I feel a sense of comfort. It’s like I’m actually in a resort. It’s like, when you go off on a vacation and stay in a hotel – it sort of feels that way. It feels like you have to go back to reality eventually, but this is it. This is home. I feel elated.”
And already, life has changed for the better.
Because Tyrone works late, it was always a struggle to find time to talk with his son without disturbing anyone else.
“We actually got to sit down in our living room and talk about our day, which we never got to do before,” Tyrone said. “The girls were upstairs and we were downstairs, me and my son just talking. We didn’t feel pressured.”
While Tara is still adjusting to life in a new school, Tyrone said the borough has been extremely welcoming.
“We felt like celebrities,” Tyrone said. “I don’t think many people can say they moved into a new house and had such a reunion of neighbors. It was touching.”
‘A giant hug’
The long process of finding out whether her family would qualify to live in the Habitat house felt even longer to Cheryl Moore, as she had to drive past it every day on her way to work at The Forum School, watching the construction progress on a house she didn’t know if she would own.
But the payoff was worth it for Cheryl and her daughters, Rachel and Emily, who have left the apartment they had rented in Ramsey for the last 17 years to live in the borough.
“To me this whole experience has been a God-given gift,” Moore said. “Everything lined up and everything is working out so perfectly, beyond what I ever could have imagined.”
Now, Cheryl will be able to walk to work, Emily will be able to walk to Waldwick High School, and Rachel will drive to Ramsey to finish out her senior year of high school.
The cost savings of living in low-income housing also means Cheryl will be able to get car insurance for her daughters, who have been able to drive but couldn’t because of not having insurance, and she will be able to get a phone plan for her family that doesn’t involve counting minutes.
She’s also excited about the spacious back yard that the families will share, and trying her hand at grilling for the first time.
“We’ve all been working on each other’s units for the past year side by side,” Moore said of her new neighbors. “There is such a strong sense of community and genuine love for each other.”
For her, the connection with strangers has been the best part of this process.
“I’m thrilled to get a home and I think that’s totally exciting and wonderful, but even better than that and more fantastic that that is the whole experience of meeting the people who volunteered,” Moore said. “Thousands of volunteers have given time and energy and their skills and talents to invest in the future for me and my girls. It’s like getting a giant hug.”
To say “thank you,” Cheryl said she plans to volunteer on future Habitat programs in Bergen County and in other counties.
“They set the bar high for me,” Cheryl said. “I’m constantly reminded of giving and thinking of others. It’s a big debt to try and pay back.”

ACLU: Poor People Have Rights Too

As reported yesterday in the New York Times, over the past year three dozen states introduced legislation todrug test individuals receiving public assistance. This includes individuals applying for everything from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to welfare, unemployment and Medicare. Incidentally, you know who isn'tbeing asked to submit to drug testing before receiving public assistance? Bankers, traders and anyone else who received money from the bailout.

These laws are wrong. They are flat-out unconstitutional shortsighted and will end up costing the state more than any possible savings . But even putting all of that aside, let's stop for a moment and ask ourselves the bigger question of why. Why are we drug testing anyone who isn’t flying an airplane? Why poor people in particular? Some might argue it’s because we can’t have people spending money from the federal government on drugs. But I haven’t heard of any plan to start drug testing students at Harvard who get federal student loans. These laws deliberately separate poor people from the rest of society, asserting that they have less of a right to privacy simply because they are having trouble making ends meet.

Others might argue that people are drug tested for their jobs, so why shouldn’t people have to get tested to receive benefits? Because expanding the indignity of mandatory drug testing to more and more people is not the answer. Employers should not require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test any more than the government should be forcing poor people to do the same. Mandatory drug testing, whether as a condition of employment or as a requirement for the receipt of public assistance, is an unnecessary intrusion into personal privacy.

Last month, the ACLU of Florida filed suit in federal court on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Navy veteran, father of a 4-year-old, the sole caregiver for his disabled mother and a student at the University of Central Florida who refuses to relinquish his Fourth Amendment rights by submitting to drug testing at the hands of the state. As he said, “I served my country, I’m in school finishing my education and trying to take care of my son. It’s insulting and degrading that people think I’m using drugs just because I need a little help to take care of my family while I finish up my education.”

These laws target people who have one defining characteristic — they are poor . In a time when more and more Americans need help feeding and clothing their families, the last thing we need are laws forcing poor people to give up their most basic constitutional rights.
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Point in Time meeting Oct. 17

My apologies for not posting this till the last minute.

There will be a meeting of the Point in Time Committee on Monday, October 17th at 9:30 AM.  Please respond if you will be attending.  As per discussion at this morning's CoC meeting attached is the current Point In Time Survey.  Please review and e-mail Ryan Reilly or myself with any changes you would like to see to the survey.  Thank you. 

Susan Mascola
O.C. Dept. of Human Services
1027 Hooper Avenue, Building 2
Toms River, NJ 08754
732-288-7791 (Fax) 

Caregivers Awareness Night Nov. 1

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NJ Natural Gas Energy Assistance

New Jersey Natural Gas Holds Energy Assistance Days
New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) will host its annual Energy Assistance Days in communities throughout Monmouth, Ocean and Morris Counties.
Representatives from NJNG and Community Action Program (CAP) agencies will team with community members to determine which programs best fit their needs and assist with the application process. To qualify and apply for energy-assistance programs, participants are asked to provide proof of identification, proof of income, proof of home ownership or rental agreement and recent copies of energy bills.

October 18, 2011
11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Ocean County Library
Lakewood Branch
301 Lexington Avenue
Lakewood, NJ

October 21, 2011
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Melvin Cottrell Center for Senior Citizens
45 Don Connor Boulevard
Jackson, NJ

October 26, 2011
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saint Francis Community Center
4700 Long Beach Boulevard
Long Beach Island, NJ

For more information or to connect with NJNG’s Energy Assistance specialists, call 800-221-0051 or email

Grant workshop