County mulls lawsuit to end New York City homeless relocation

Union County is considering suing New York City to end a practice that has already placed more than 50 homeless families in towns throughout the county since August without notice, officials said in a Dec. 4 press release.

Homeless people from New York City have been placed in seven municipalities under the city’s “Special One Time Assistance” or SOTA, program, the county said. The program provides one year of rent to relocated families, but provides no other forms of assistance. SOTA began in 2017, and Union County was added to the program as a destination, without notice, in August, the county said.

“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,” Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski said.

“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.

Union County municipalities reporting SOTA placements include Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Roselle, Hillside, Union and Plainfield.

“The lack of communication and the underhandedness of New York City to relieve some of their homeless problems to our city is despicable,” the release said, quoting Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage.

Union County officials on Dec. 3 met with the mayors and other representatives from the seven impacted municipalities by conference call, along with state representatives, to discuss next steps.
New Jersey officials also have reacted.

“I ask the attorney general to get involved in this matter and open an investigation into the particular details of SOTA,” Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who represents Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union said in a Dec. 6 statement. “It is unconscionable for New York to relocate homeless families here and essentially leave them stranded without regard to our municipalities or state.”

Union County also has 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 all 21 municipalities of Union County through the SOTA program.

According to the county, the SOTA program does not provide social support services, counseling, employment assistance, medical care and other costs. County officials also noted that children are placed in municipal school districts through the program.

However, 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, according to the county.