Demonstrator at Black Lives Matter protest in Newark, New Jersey. Photo credit: Jakayla Toney

Tenants at a Newark apartment building already battling evictions after Supreme Court decision shutters federal housing moratorium

One day after the Supreme Court stopped the federal moratorium on evictions, Garden Spires Apartment residents in Newark, New Jersey were locked out  without warning. 

In a video filmed by Newark-based activist Africa Ibang, residents ask a security guard his reason for changing door locks to their apartments without warning.

“You don’t have the authority to put a lock on the door,” argued one resident in the background to the guard.

But residents’ report having come home to a different lock without an explanation. “They’re paying their rent,” insisted Ibang to security. “They’re not supposed to lock nobody’s door without the sheriff, without going to court.”

According to New Jersey courts, an eviction “can be performed only after a judgment for possession and a warrant of removal is used and served on the tenant by a special civil part officer.”

“This is not fair . . . you’ve got to get first offence, second offence, third offence [to be evicted],” an infuriated resident said. “My sister is there with a baby and they’re saying they’re going to lock the door.”

Yet and still, the building’s guard replied while walking away from the crowd, “I don’t know what’s going on with the office.” 

View of Garden Spires and Spruce Spires from Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey. Photo credit: Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

At some point, Newark police officers were dispatched, but left the premises after speaking with tenants outside. 

Moreover, Garden Spires management’s actions might go against the current state moratorium allowing low-to-moderate income renters the ability to remain in their residence until the end of the year. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill in August that extends an earlier order protecting lessees from being kicked out of their homes.

Ark Republic reached out to Garden Spires management to explain their actions, but they did not respond by press time.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one building occupant said that some residents gained re-entry, while others are still banned from their homes.

What happened at Garden Spires is a worry for housing advocates across the country. With the Supreme Court’s recent blocking of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, it opened up a throughway for landlords and their advocates to take legal action. 

Last week, the Supreme Court struck down the State of New York’s ability to extend a provision banning evictions. Even though New York’s moratorium ended September 1, state legislators called a special session to address the thousands of renters who are vulnerable to being kicked out. On Wednesday, they passed legislation extending the moratorium.

In New Jersey, about 90,000 tenant eviction cases have been filed since the beginning of the pandemic. If concerted efforts are not taken by state legislators, the U.S. runs the risk of experiencing one of the largest displacements of people in its history.

. . . .

For some, Garden Spires also represents the changing of the urban space in a post-pandemic America. In Newark, it is one of the last remaining, low income high rises. Once a severely neglected building with complaints ranging from unsanitary conditions to high crime, it received a $172 massive renovation after over a copious number of tenant complaints and over 2,700 building and safety violations.

The refurbished 58-year-old property was finished in 2020 after 18 months of reconstruction. It also changed ownership from First King Properties out of Kearny, New Jersey to Omni America. The new owner of the Garden Spires is a New York-based real estate company specializing in rehabilitating, building and then managing affordable housing.

Now Garden Spires, and its twin high rise, Spruce Spires, boast quality housing. For some, the ad hoc evictions are part of an ongoing issue in Newark. “Yo, this how they gentrify the community man,” said Ibang soberly.

Since the arrival of Cory Booker as the city’s mayor in 2006, massive redevelopment projects have taken place. Many of the abandoned or rotted structures in the city’s downtown commercial district were left run down, but owners refused to sell. However, Booker forewent eminent domain, opting to broker agreements with proprietors instead. Then, he expedited zoning and development regulations

Booker is now a U.S. Senator for the state of New Jersey. He left the mayorship in 2013, in the middle of his second term. City council member and high school principal Ras Baraka, also the son of poet-activist Amiri Baraka, won the subsequent special election in 2014, and has been mayor ever since.

Under Mayor Baraka’s tenure, development has picked up in the central and south wards’ commercial districts. Some restoration efforts of the west ward have also been underway, but largely, revitalization has taken place in just two of the five districts.

Pushing for housing equity, the City has launched a number of initiatives to increase Black and Latino ownership in a metro area with rapidly rising rents far outgrowing the average income of traditional Newarkers. Yet and still, the rate of effectiveness is still being assessed.

For many low wealth community members, Garden Spires is one of the few, affordable, but decent housing options.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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