Newark's rapid gentrification ushers in the City to create affordable housing and opportunities at equity. Photo credit: Ekaterina Bolovtsova of Pexels

Housing is a human right for the City of Newark. LGBT and Section 8 residents enroll in innovative programs

Mayor Ras Baraka works to keep his promise to close poverty and homeless with innovative programs providing housing to under-resourced Newarkers. 

Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka broke ground on a new 11-unit residential building for homeless, LGBTQ residents and those with disabilities. The initiative is in partnership with the Essex LGBT Reaching Adolescents in Need (RAIN) Foundation. 

The first affordable housing project targeting LGBTQ in New Jersey, the City says in a release that the “units will provide safe, affordable, and supportive housing,” for “underserved, chronically homeless LGBTQ young adults.” All the while, residents in the housing program will also receive wrap-around services “to address their health, financial and psychosocial needs.” 

The services will be provided by the City’s partners, the RAIN Foundation, an organization that provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supporting housing services to LGBTQ young adults aged 18-26.

The innovative program addresses the chronic housing issues amongst the LGBTQ population, and those of color. UCLA’s School of Law Williams institute reported from their study that LGBT adults are twice as likely to experience homelessness than those who do not identify as a sexual and gender minority. Moreover, Blacks who fall in the category of sexual minorities, experience homeless at “disproportionately higher rates.” Newark, a predominantly Black city, followed by a significantly visible Latino population, focuses on two of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. 

The program comes weeks after the city handed keys to three families in the newly-operational program, “Section 8 Homeownership Conversion Program.” The strategem works to transition recipients of the federal government’s housing voucher program to homeownership. An initiative to increase homeownership opportunities for low-and-moderate-income families by using properties transferred to the Newark Land Bank from the City of Newark’s Department of Economic and Housing Development, the program enables first time homebuyers to have access to capital and more equitable opportunities.

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“Increasing homeownership for Newark residents, regardless of income level, is one of the important reasons why we created the Land Bank and the Live Newark Closing Cost Program . . . numerous residents will enjoy the independence and empowerment of achieving the American Dream of home ownership,” said Mayor Baraka.

The housing program, one of several key efforts to decrease poverty and housing instability, also addresses the issue of blighted homes throughout Newark that are costing the city millions of dollars each year. Currently, hundreds of homes sit abandoned and in different states of deterioration. Since the early start of Mayor Baraka’s tenure, he has enacted programs and incentives to fill the homes. The Section 8 program is one of them.

“We are helping working class residents realize the dream of homeowners, extending contract opportunities to local developers while removing blight and expanding the City’s tax base,” said Bernel Hall, President and CEO of Invest Newark, one of the partners in the Section 8 conversion project. Invest Newark provided funds to complete development costs for the three initial properties, a total of $550,000.

The program also commits to work with local minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) contractors as a way to grow wealth and create some type of equity in the real estate industry. “As an affordable housing contractor and developer, the benefits of working for Invest Newark are two-folds for us,” said Ray Hamlett of Hamlett Development Partners, who refurbished a home in the city’s south ward. “We have the satisfaction of knowing that a low income homebuyer will be given the opportunity to build equity from the value and quality of our work, coupled with an increase in business revenue, especially during the covid-19 shutdowns.”

To involve participants, qualified Section 8 recipients were able to use their rental vouchers and down payment assistance as a down payment to purchase single-family homes. “My children and I are super excited to begin our new journey in our new home,” said Ramonia Addison, one of the new homeowners in the Section 8 program.

Plans to expand the programs are part of the commitment to address housing instability in Newark, as the City picks up more partners and financial commitments.

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