Category Archives: The Streetlight Investigates

Trenton Housing Authority Closes Waiting Lists

The line for public housing in New Jersey’s capital city has gotten so long that the Trenton Housing Authority has decided not to allow anyone else to join the waiting list.

City Hall in Trenton. File photo by Jared Kofsky/The Streetlight.

By Jared Kofsky

Trentonians seeking to reside in public housing this summer are out of luck for the time being. The Trenton Housing Authority (THA), which owns and operates the public housing projects throughout New Jersey’s capital city, is no longer accepting applications for most of its affordable apartments and houses.

In a February legal notice, the THA announced that over 6,000 households were on the waiting lists for public housing in Mercer County’s second largest municipality. Federal census records show that Trenton has a total of roughly 27,000 households. Citing the “high volume of applicants,” the authority revealed that it would be closing its “Family” and “Senior/Disabled” waiting lists on March 1.

As planned, the THA stopped permitting new applications to both of these waiting lists at the beginning of March, according to its website. Trentonians interested in residing in public housing in the city who visit the THA’s Apply4Housing web page are now greeted with a message stating in part that “we are sorry, but there are no open list [sic] currently.”

Based in the North Trenton neighborhood, the THA has almost a dozen complexes in Trenton. These facilities range from the 112-unit Samuel Haverstick Homes near the Ewing Township border to the 376-unit Mayor Donnelly Homes on New Willow Street to the Lincoln Homes near Rivera Community Middle School.

Trenton, Princeton, and Hightstown are the only municipalities in Mercer County to operate their own public housing authorities, though the Princeton Housing Authority maintains a total of just 236 apartments while the Hightstown Housing Authority has just 100. When applications for the waiting list are open, the THA’s website states in part that the capital city’s authority requires at least one household member to be an American citizen or “eligible non-citizen” and that applicants must not exceed the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s income limits. For a family of four, annual “low income” is defined as a household earning a maximum of $71,900 while “extremely low income” is considered to be less than $29,650.

The Streetlight has learned that Trenton is far from the only city in New Jersey where there is a far higher demand for public housing than a supply of affordable units.

60 miles northeast of Trenton in the state’s second largest city, the Jersey City Housing Authority (JCHA) has closed both the application list for the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program, which “is designed to assist eligible low-income families pay their rent,” along with all but one of its “public housing site based waiting lists,” according to the agency’s website.

During the summer of 2018, the JCHA decided to reopen its public housing waiting list to applicants, but only for a one week period. However, a statement from the agency at the time mentioned that not all people who sought to be added to the waiting list would be included since “a set number of preliminary applications [would] be selected using a computerized random selection process.” The sole remaining waiting list in Jersey City that remains open is solely for two-member households where one family member must be 62 years of age or older, according to municipal records. The draft of the JCHA’s 2019 annual plan shows that as of August 2018, there were still 5,564 applicants on the waiting lists.

Meanwhile, the Newark Housing Authority (NHA) had waiting lists with an estimated 19,494 applicants, roughly the entire population of Hopewell Township, as of December 2018, according to the 2018 NHA Annual Report. The NHA, which is the largest agency of its kind in the Garden State, reported that 800 individuals were moved from the waiting lists to public housing in 2018. However, the NHA website shows that 13,303 families and 3,897 disabled applicants are still waiting and only “near elderly, elderly, and disabled residents” are currently allowed to submit applications.

While the public housing waiting lists might not be open at the THA, the JCHA, and the NHA, there are a variety of resources available in the capital region for readers experiencing homelessness to visit. The Mercer County Resource Guide on pages six and seven provides additional information regarding these services.

 

Editor’s Note: This story was written in March 2019.

Extreme Weather Continues to Plague Trenton Library

By Jared Kofsky

With temperatures in the capital region this summer reaching as high as 96 degrees, Mercer County residents sought shelter indoors during the day from the excruciating heat. In local suburbs, if residents lacked air conditioning on some of the warmest days of the year, local libraries were places to spend the day indoors. In fact, the New Jersey 2-1-1 Partnership recommends that “libraries… and other public air-conditioned spaces are good alternatives in every county if you are looking for a place to cool down.”

However, for residents of Trenton, particularly those experiencing homelessness, such an option did not exist on days when temperatures were at their highest. The Trenton Free Public Library (TFPL) on Academy Street, part of which was built in 1902, was shut down frequently, with closures coinciding with high temperatures.

An analysis by The Streetlight of online announcements by the TFPL found that the library was closed on 12 days during this summer alone due to concerns over heat in the building. On 12 additional days, the TFPL closed early, meaning that for nearly an entire month’s worth of days, the municipal library in New Jersey’s capital was either shut down for all or part of its usual hours of operation.

Patrons who sought the library’s services during the day were often greeted with a sign reading “the library is subject to close at any time during the day due to the temperature within the building.” On Facebook, there were regular posts this summer warning potential visitors that the library will be shut down for the day “due to the excessive heat and humidity in the building.” Although posts on July 25 and 26 and on August 1, 3, 4, 6, and 9 mentioned that “HVAC engineers are on-site working on this issue,” there were closures on excessively hot days throughout the summer, from the end of June until the beginning of September.

Following these shutdowns, it appeared as though an end to the weather-related closures was near, with the TFPL posting online at the end of the summer that a new HVAC system was installed, replacing a previous system that was set up over four decades earlier. The library also thanked the Trenton City Council for assisting with funding the new system.

Yet, just a few months later, extreme weather impacted the TFPL again. On three frigid days before this winter even began, the building was closed to the public due to concerns over the climate control system on the premises.

The Streetlight took the concerns over the closures to Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who stated in an exclusive interview in late November that the problem was being addressed.

“We’ve actually been working on the HVAC system and we are making facility upgrades to the library,” said Gusciora. When asked what was causing the delay, the mayor cited “contractor challenges” and added that secondary fixes are on the way.

“We hope to correct any problems with the library facility in the very near future,” he explained.

The capital is far from the only city in the United States where residents experiencing homelessness rely on libraries for services and shelter during the day. A Washington Post investigation described libraries as the “front line of America’s homelessness crisis,” highlighting San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia as examples of municipal libraries that are hiring their own social workers for individuals experiencing homelessness.

In Trenton, while there are a handful of other resources that are open to Trentonians experiencing homelessness, such as the Rescue Mission of Trenton’s Day Center. This facility, which is open daily, serves lunch and offers case management services. However, the TFPL remains a common place for individuals to spend the day safely indoors when it is open.

Unlike other similarly-sized cities in New Jersey, Trenton currently has only one municipal library branch. Although the TFPL used to operate the Briggs, Cadwalader, East Trenton, and Skelton Branches in four of the city’s outer neighborhoods, all four were closed in 2010.

According to Mayor Gusciora, City Hall is figuring out how those libraries can be reopened. When asked for additional details, the mayor stated that the City would require non-profit partners to operate each of the old library branches, such as how Howard’s Healthy Choices is operating in the former Briggs Branch Library.

Facility upgrades are needed, Gusciora explained, mentioning that the City is in discussions with Mercer County officials about possibly having Trenton become involved with the Mercer County Library system.

Still, nearly a decade after the branches were shuttered, when it comes to the TFPL, finances remain a concern.

“The library budget used to be $8 million. It’s down to $2 million so you can readily understand why the branches had to close,” Gusciora told The Streetlight. “The City can’t afford to do it all.”

“Aging Out Into Homelessness”: A Garden State Crisis (Part 1)

By Jared Kofsky

To some youth, the day that they turn 18 or graduate from high school are moments that they await for years, since it allows for increased independence. However, for many of the thousands of teenagers in the Garden State’s foster care system, their 18th birthday or high school graduation date signals an end to a way of life that they have known for nearly two decades, resulting in uncertainty about where they will sleep, eat, and work.

From aging out of the foster care system to surviving domestic violence to not being allowed to purchase or rent a home, a variety of factors are continuing to cause homelessness to remain a crisis impacting youth between the ages of 18 and 24 in the Trenton area and across the state.

State records show that 10,994 children in NJ public schools are known to be experiencing homelessness, but the number of young adults in Mercer County without housing is unclear. Volunteers found that 78 people under the age of 25 were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County during the Point-in-Time Count (PITC) in January 2017, but the actual number is likely far higher.

Some young adults who do not have their own home routinely alternate between the homes of acquaintances or relatives, but three percent of Mercer County participants in the PITC told
surveyors that this resulted in them turning to shelters or the streets upon running out of places to stay.

Subsequently, many turn to emergency shelters. The lack of an emergency shelter specifically for young adults experiencing homelessness in Mercer County can result in unsheltered youth, according to Anchor House Director of Outreach Services Ben Thornton. These individuals often end up sleeping in parks, transit hubs, and baseball stadiums when they cannot find anywhere else to go.

Aging out of the foster care system is one of the primary causes of homelessness for adults under the age of 25 in the Garden State. In fact, according to Covenant House New Jersey, 30 percent of their clients use their services after having nowhere to go when they turned 18 since they are often unable to afford or denied the opportunity to rent or purchase a home.

The New Jersey Child Placement Advisory Council reports that “without the benefit of family and community support systems, their [youths] risks for homelessness and human trafficking are at a much higher rate than the general population.”

Locally, some steps are being taken to address homelessness among youth by non-profit organizations such as Anchor House, LifeTies, Isles, and the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness, but they often lack the resources to meet the demand for services. Anchor House serves some youth who have aged out of the foster care system through its Anchor age Transitional Living Program on Centre Street in South Trenton and hosted a Youth Connect outreach event in January for youth experiencing homelessness following the 2018 Point-in-Time Count. In addition, this 40-year-old organization operates a Street Outreach Team and the Anchor Link drop-in center at the corner of South Broad and Beatty Streets.

However, unlike nearby cities, the capital region has yet to see a comprehensive investigation and proposed solution to the crisis by any government agency. Philadelphia has its own Office of Homeless Services which operates a Youth Homelessness Initiative while the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development has a team that researches and funds housing, shelters, and outreach services for young adults experiencing homelessness.

Meanwhile, although the City of Trenton does operate the CEAS Center for people of all ages who lack housing and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families started a Connecting YOUth Project a few years ago, there are very few active municipal, county, or state-operated facilities that specifically tackle the issue of homelessness among youth.

Our hope is that this investigative series will prompt a change in our approach to this growing problem. If you are a young adult experiencing homelessness who would like to tell your story in the next part of “’Aging Out’ into Homelessness,” please contact The Streetlight at thestreetlightnewspaper@gmail.com.

Jessica Middleton contributed research for this report.