DCA Launches Pilot Program to Divert Low-Income Households from Eviction

  • Posted on: 08/25/2021

Anti-Eviction Program Is Operating in Three Cities and Providing Households with Access to Legal Representation and Supportive Services

TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) earlier this month launched the Expanded Access to Counsel and Homelessness Diversion Anti-Eviction Pilot Program to help low-income households stay in their homes when threatened with or facing eviction. The pilot program is operating in three cities – Atlantic City, East Orange, and Trenton – and is providing tenants in these communities with access to legal representation and a supportive safety net to help them avoid eviction and homelessness.

The pilot program’s launch coincides with the winding down of the State of New Jersey’s eviction moratorium. Its approach is to coordinate legal and social services for tenants at risk of eviction in an effort to prevent recurring housing insecurity while reducing barriers to justice in court.

“In advance of the State’s eviction moratorium being lifted for some tenants this month, DCA developed different strategies such as this Anti-Eviction Pilot Program to keep people stably housed,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner. “We recognize that tenants who are low-income too often rely on brief legal advice or even just a hotline in their eviction cases. This program is a way to address this unmet need for full and quality legal counsel while also providing other services to help people stay in their homes.”

During the one-year pilot period, the program will provide direct funding to designated legal services and social services providers in each of the three target municipalities to defend against eviction and to divert eviction by way of emergency grants, short-term rental arrears payments, relocation assistance, and other supportive services as necessary and appropriate. 

Atlantic City, East Orange, and Trenton were selected for the Anti-Eviction Pilot Program based on their eviction filings, shelter entries, homelessness rates, local poverty levels, and data showing eviction as a main contributing factor of housing displacement. The selected municipalities also reflect geographic parity and where networks of supportive services on the ground are strong. 

The Anti-Eviction Pilot Program includes funding for an evaluation component to determine the program's success in each target municipality, where adjustments need to be made, and the program's potential for replication in other municipalities or state-wide expansion after the pilot period.

The program comes at a critical time when tenants need assistance in navigating the changing eviction landscape in the state. For example, the U.S. Center for Disease Control extended the federal eviction moratorium through October 3, 2021, for certain tenants. Also, a new law signed by Governor Murphy on August 4, 2021, provides new eviction moratorium deadlines and special eviction protections for tenants who were directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law ensures that New Jersey’s eviction moratorium continues through August 31st for all state residents with household incomes below 120 percent Area Medium Income (AMI) and through the end of the year for certain households with incomes below 80 percent AMI. The new law also requires tenants to self-certify their household income, whether they had an economic impact from the pandemic, and whether they have applied for rental assistance in order to continue being protected from eviction. Tenants can self-certify and apply for rental arrears and future rent assistance at https://covid19.nj.gov/forms/renter or by calling (609) 490-4550.

The Anti-Eviction Pilot Program is part of a wide-ranging effort by DCA to address tenants’ needs and eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, DCA awarded $1.25 million in late 2020 to the nonprofit Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network) to develop and implement outreach strategies to raise awareness of tenant rights, the eviction process, and eviction prevention resources across the state. The Network is also providing training and technical assistance to the 48 housing counseling agencies across the state to enable them to serve renters and work with small and nonprofit landlords to develop and implement a mediation process to prevent eviction.

DCA maintains the State’s Eviction Prevention web portal, which is accessible at https://covid19.nj.gov/forms/renter, and responds to questions and concerns submitted through the website.

In March, DCA launched the second phase of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CVERAP), which provides up to 12 months of rental assistance for rent arrearages and future rent to low- and moderate-income households that have had a substantial reduction in income or incurred significant costs as a result of the pandemic. The Department continues to actively accept applications and will continue to do so until an adequate number of applications have been received to distribute the approximately $1.2 billion in state and federal funding allocated to the program.

To date, DCA has disbursed more than $182 million in rental assistance to more than 20,000 households across the state. This funding is in addition to the $91.75 million that DCA distributed to 15,000 households in the first phase of the CVERAP program last year.

Additionally, DCA manages the DCAid Screening Tool to quickly and anonymously determine an individual’s eligibility for programs such as housing and energy assistance. In October 2020, the Department opened a website portal where New Jersey residents can apply directly online for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Universal Service Fund (USF) program. Previously, people had to fill out and submit a paper application. The availability of an online application, especially during the pandemic, makes the process of applying much easier for New Jersey residents to receive assistance. The online application for utility assistance can be accessed here.

Individuals can also dial 2-1-1 any day, any time to speak with a call specialist who can provide the locations and hours of local LIHEAP application agencies, explain how home energy assistance programs work, check on the status of a LIHEAP application once it has been submitted, and help find alternative resources if a person doesn't qualify for LIHEAP and/or USF benefits.

DCA offers a wide range of programs and services, including local government management and finance, affordable housing production, fire safety, building safety, community planning and development, and disaster recovery and mitigation.

For more information about DCA, visit https://nj.gov/dca/ or follow the Department on social media:


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