Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded on Thursday that “there were mistakes” in his initiative to ship about 5,000 homeless families out of town — but he is “deeply surprised” that Newark is suing over it.
“That was really a derogatory lawsuit,” de Blasio said. “It was a statement against working poor people. You read what they’re suggesting. It’s entirely disrespectful to these people who are just trying to make ends meet and lead their lives.”
New Jersey’s largest city filed the federal lawsuit Monday to block New York from dumping more homeless families in their back yard under de Blasio’s $89 million Special One-Time Assistance program.
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The lawsuit accuses New York of forcing SOTA families into “uninhabitable conditions” in Newark.
De Blasio said the suit came “with no warning whatsoever,” even though he had spoken to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka “several times over the last year.”
“My point to Mayor Baraka is, there but for the grace of God go you or I,” de Blasio said Thursday. “This is about helping working people, working poor people who ended up homeless.”
“How could any city turn its back on people in need?” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
He also blamed Newark for the substandard housing that SOTA families were placed in.
“If the building is in your jurisdiction, you have a responsibility for the health and safety of the building,” de Blasio said. “Again, ‘Physician, heal thyself.’”
The mayor was speaking at the New Settlement Community Center in the Bronx in the wake of a scathing Department of Investigation report that found that some SOTA families were living in squalor and at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords.
DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett said that “the promise of the program is not being fulfilled.”
De Blasio commended the DOI for compiling the report and said the city Social Services Department even cooperated with the investigation.
But he defended the program, saying SOTA’s intent “was very decent, very human.”
“It was a new program,” de Blasio said. “Now, as with many new things, was it perfect on day one? Absolutely not, and there were mistakes made for sure. And those mistakes were caught and acted on.”
“And I think that one of the things that DOI notes is that changes were made and DOI offered recommendations and they were followed,” he said.
Asked if SOTA should be shut down, the mayor responded, “No.”
“Because we’re helping working poor people have a place to live and we’re going to keep doing that,” he said. “We’re going to address the issues in the lawsuit, for sure.”