Solomon, community groups, want Jersey City COVID-19 fund to commit $2M to rent relief

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Joined by 11 local community organizations, Ward E Councilman James Solomon is calling for the Jersey City COVID-19 fund to commit at least $2 million towards rent relief.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The group outlined a COVID-19 housing crisis for the more than 71 percent of Jersey City residents who rent, many of whom are ineligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus relief.

“Nearly a quarter of Jersey City renters are already severely cost-burdened, spending more than half their monthly income on rent,” they wrote in a letter to Mayor Steven Fulop and the Jersey City COVID-19 Community Relief Fund Committee yesterday.

“Without paychecks, without savings, accruing months of back-rent debt … renters face a terrifying future. The situation is even more dire for Jersey City residents barred from federal relief.“

Along with student activists, immigration advocates, tenants’ rights groups, progressive organizers, and faith leaders, Solomon proposed that the bulk of the city’s $3 million COVID-19 relief fund be set aside for renters who earn less than half Jersey City’s average median income.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development sets Jersey City’s 50 percent AMI at $34,550 for an individual, or $49,300 for a family of four.

The coalition’s specific proposals includes a minimum of $2 million as direct-to-tenant rental assistance, which includes explicit information-sharing safeguards protecting applicants from federal immigration authorities and landlord retaliation.

They also suggested adding a “Relief Fund” selection committee members from non-City-or-County-appointed community organizations with direct experience advocating for Jersey City’s undocumented immigrant and tenant communities.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that while the feedback is welcome, much of this proposal is already being considered.

“We appreciate all input and have received a lot of different suggestions – to be clear though, much of what is in this letter is already happening as the city is already working on a rent relief program, a right to counsel program, a small business loan program, relief for immigrants, and a host of other programs that work in conjunction with the state or federal programs.”

Reached over this phone this afternoon, Solomon said that he and others are seeking a definitive commitment on this topic.

“We’re making a very clear ask that the main focus of the relief fund, the majority of the money, go to rent relief for low-income residents. We’re going to sit down with each committee member and make that case. We think this is really the right thing to do,” he added.

In addition to a $3 million general community-fund, the city has pledged another $1.5 million to aid small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

The city has yet to publicize a distribution plan for their $3 million COVID-19 relief fund, though Fulop tweeted a commitment to helping everyone regardless of immigration status last month after Solomon made this assertion.

Co-signers include the Center for Undocumented Students at Saint Peter’s University, Congregation B’Nai Jacob of Jersey City, Hudson County Progressive Alliance, Fr. John Hyatt, SJ, The Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, Jersey City Vigil for Refugees, Make the Road New Jersey, NJ-08 For Progress, Saint Aeden’s Migrant Center, the Social Justice Program at Saint Peter’s University, and Welcome Home Jersey City.