New Jersey has several programs to help people who are in danger of being evicted and becoming homeless because they cannot pay their rent. The two major programs are the Emergency Assistance (EA) Program and the Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP). EA is only available to people who are receiving or would be eligible to receive welfare or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). HPP is available to people who are employed or receiving unemployment or disability payments.
HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION PROGRAM (HPP)
The Homelessness Prevention Program is funded by the state and operated by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The primary purpose of the program is to help people who face eviction because they have fallen behind in their rent payments, and who have a chance to keep their housing unit if they can get a little help. Cite: N.J.S.A. 52:27D-280. HPP can also help people who are already homeless. HPP can pay a security deposit and a few months’ rent to help people move into a home as long as they are able to show that they can pay the rent on their own after that.
Back rent for tenants facing eviction
HPP provides money to tenants to pay rent that is due to the landlord to prevent eviction. To qualify for HPP, you must meet certain income limits. You must show that you got behind in your rent because of a temporary crisis, such as being laid off from your job. Also, you must prove that you will be able to afford to pay the rent in the future if HPP pays your back rent. You must also show that the landlord has served you with a summons and complaint for eviction for nonpayment of rent. To qualify for HPP, you must fill out an application form and provide detailed information on your income and the pending eviction complaint against you. If you qualify, HPP can pay at least three months’ back rent and up to six months in special cases.
HPP gives vouchers to tenants who qualify for assistance. The HPP voucher is a promise by HPP to pay the landlord the amount of the voucher, which is the amount the tenant needs to pay to avoid eviction. If HPP agrees to give you a voucher to cover the back rent, you must get the landlord to accept the voucher as payment. If the landlord signs the voucher, he or she must also agree to dismiss the eviction complaint.
If you cannot get the landlord to sign the voucher before the court hearing, you must then ask the judge to order the landlord to accept the voucher at the eviction hearing. There have been several court rulings where eviction actions have been dismissed because the funds are available to the landlord. The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a New Jersey law that says that the landlord cannot discriminate against tenants who get subsidies to help pay their rent. Cite: Franklin Tower One, L.L.C. v. N.M., 157 N.J. 602 (1999). That law in a stronger form has now become a part of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Cite: N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(g). Complaints against landlords who refuse to accept HPP funds can be filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. See Recognizing and Fighting Discrimination for more information about the law and where to file complaints.
How to apply for the Homelessness Prevention Program
HPP funds for back rent are distributed by local non-profit organizations located in every county in New Jersey. You can apply directly to the non-profit administering the HPP in the county where you live. You can find out which organization that is by call calling 866-889- 8270. See HPP Program Contacts (from the NJ Division of Housing and Community Resources) for a list of the HPP-responsible organization in each county.
It often takes time to get a decision from HPP on whether or not they will help you. You may not have much time because the landlord has already begun the eviction action and you have a date to appear in court. It is very important that you contact HPP as early in the eviction process as possible and that you let them know when your eviction case will be heard in court. In many counties, a representative of the HPP program often goes to eviction court to see if there are people there who need help. Ask the court workers in and around the courtroom to tell you if the HPP worker is there.
HPP has limited funding. HPP gets a small amount of money from the State of New Jersey each year. In most years, HPP does not get enough money to help everyone who needs it. This funding shortage means that you may find that your local HPP office has run out of money, especially in the spring when the state fiscal year is coming to an end. It also means that you may have difficulty getting through to a local office or getting your application approved in time to prevent your eviction. If you are having trouble getting help from HPP, you can contact your regional Legal Services office or get help from another agency in your community that helps homeless people.
If you are denied HPP
If HPP denies your request, they must send you a notice explaining why you were denied. You have the right to contest the denial at an informal hearing, called a fair hearing. You must ask for this hearing. Unfortunately, the hearing is not an emergency, and you are likely to be evicted before your hearing.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE (EA)
Money to pay back rent may also be available to tenants who are receiving or eligible to receive cash benefits from Work First New Jersey (WFNJ), or recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), through a program called Emergency Assistance (EA). (The two welfare programs that are part of WFNJ are often called TANF, which is for families with children, and GA, which is for single people and childless couples.) EA can give you up to three months' back rent or up to three months' back utility payments in order to prevent eviction. It can also provide you with six months or more of rental assistance going forward.
If you actually are evicted and become homeless, EA also provides:
Security deposits and advance rent to lease an apartment,
Utility deposits for a new apartment,
Temporary rental assistance (TRA) to help you pay for a new apartment, and
An allowance for furniture if you need it.
How to apply for EA
You must apply for EA at your county welfare agency if you are eligible for WFNJ or SSI. (Single adults and childless couples who are eligible for WFNJ must apply at the local welfare department if the county welfare department has not taken over WFNJ.) To be eligible for EA, you must be homeless or expect to be homeless soon. In most cases, you will need to show proof of an eviction, usually an eviction complaint or notice from your landlord. You must also show that you were unable to pay your rent. You may show that you were unable to pay your rent, even if you received welfare money, if you had to use it to pay for food, clothing, and other essentials. If you are denied EA, you must receive a written notice, and you have the right to a fair hearing on the decision. If you ask for an emergency hearing, the hearing should be held on an emergency basis. If you are denied EA, you should contact your regional Legal Services office.
OTHER RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
There may be other programs in your area that can help you to pay back rent to prevent an eviction if you are not on public assistance. Money is made available each year by the state to each county to operate a Comprehensive Emergency Assistance System, or CEAS. Each county has a CEAS committee that decides how the money will be used and which agencies in each community will receive this money. These local agencies then use this money to help people facing eviction or to provide shelter to homeless people. If your landlord is taking you to court for nonpayment of rent, call your county Board of Social Services and ask where to find such a program in your county.
Some churches and community groups have programs and money they use to help people who owe rent or are already homeless. Ask the Board or Social Services, a local church or charitable organization, or even the local police if they know which churches or groups do this. Many counties also have a special "hotline" phone number to help people with problems like homelessness. The number to call is "211."
These programs usually have very little money. They can pay only one or two months’ back rent and help only a few families each month. It is important to call your county Board of Social Services as soon as you know that your landlord is trying to evict you.
For information about citations, and how to get more information about a particular law, see Finding the Law in the Landlord-Tenant section.