Ward E Councilmember James Solomon and a coalition of Jersey City grassroots community organizations today asked Mayor Steven Fulop and a committee of city officials overseeing Jersey City’s COVID-19 relief fund to devote at least $2 million of the $3 million COVID-19 Relief Fund to low-income Jersey City renters, with priority to residents who have been excluded from federal aid.
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 general-purpose 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 50% Jersey City AMI at $34,550 for an individual, or $49,300 for a family of four).
We caught up with James over a ZOOM call this past week:
The coalition’s specific proposals includes a minimum of $2 million as direct-to-tenant rental assistance; explicit information-sharing safeguards protecting applicants from federal immigration authorities and landlord retaliation; adding Relief Fund selection committee members from non-City-or-County-appointed community organizations with direct experience advocating for Jersey City’s undocument immigrant and tenant communities; assigning relief to qualifying applicants via lottery to ensure as even a spread of aid as possible before the fund is exhausted; and making applications accessible in multiple languages both online and by phone, as well as through established community organizers who can relay word of the fund’s availability to neighborhoods on the ground.
The group outlined a COVID-19 housing crisis for the more than 71% 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. “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.“
They requested first-in-line priority for tenants excluded from federal relief, including undocumented immigrant residents and their U.S. citizen spouses and children. “The cities of Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Paul, along with Montgomery County, MD, have all devoted significant resources specifically targeted at very low-income residents who were passed over by federal relief,” they wrote. “We are pleading with you to do the same.”
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.
The Jersey City COVID-19 Relief Fund, which the Mayor announced in early April with a fundraising goal of $3 million dollars, is composed of private donations and administered by the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, a private not-for-profit created in 1980 to stimulate industrial and commercial growth. In addition to its $3 million general community-fund goal, the City has pledged a further $1.5 million to aid small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The City has yet to publicize a distribution plan for the $3 million COVID-19 Community Relief Fund, though Mayor Fulop tweeted a commitment to non-discrimination on the the basis of immigration status for local relief programs on April 19, 2020.
James Solomon represents downtown Jersey City as the Ward E Councilperson. He’s focused on building a just city, with affordable housing and improved mass transit, bicycling, and pedestrian infrastructure. He is also an adjunct professor of political science at Saint Peter’s University, New Jersey City University, and Hudson County Community College.