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BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent | January 3, 2018, 5PM EST for NJTV news

“If it wasn’t for the housing voucher I wouldn’t be able to get by,” said Oakhurst resident John Boross.

And neither would the other roughly 157,000 low-income households in New Jersey relying on federal rental assistance. Boross just secured his new home in September at an Oakhurst, Monmouth County apartment complex. But the road to get there was tough because opportunities for affordable housing in New Jersey are few and far between.

“I lived in about four different places in the span of about six months, including a hotel. It was difficult. I lived in a respite house, too, so I knew once I got settled in there I was very happy to just put down some roots,” said Boross.

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Lilo Stainton or NJ Spotlight December 21, 2017

Some providers of services to thousands of severely disabled New Jerseyans are nervous about potential downsides of big changes in way they are paid

Heading into 2018, organizations that offer community housing and other services to more than 10,000 seriously disabled New Jerseyans are in the midst of a major payment reform that could prove disruptive to both providers and those they assist.

State officials point out that the shift from a decades-old system of annual contract payments to a model in which providers are reimbursed for specific client services will eventually give more options to residents and their families and allow the Garden State to access additional federal Medicaid dollars — money that can be used to expand and create more sustainable services in the future. Some providers also believe the change can strengthen the industry in the long run.

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Vouchers Help Tenants Pick up the Pieces and Get Their Lives Back Together

December 15, 2017 – Yesterday, George, Joe, and Gretchen, individuals living in their own apartments in the Greater Freehold region, gathered to share their personal success stories telling how housing vouchers have transformed their lives.  The event took place at the Freehold First Aid Squad in Freehold, New Jersey.

These individuals were joined by Kaitlin McGuiness from U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s (NJ-D) office, Jessica Rohr from U.S. Representative Chris Smith’s (NJ-R-4) office and staff from Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, Triple C Housing and Monarch Housing Associates.

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Among other things, they will shred our community fabric by injecting politics and dark money into charitable work

Linda M. Czipo for NJ Spotlight

For New Jersey’s 30,000 charitable nonprofit organizations, the dueling House and Senate tax reform bills being fast-tracked through Congress are complex and differ in many key respects, but they have one important thing in common: both are harmful for New Jersey charities and all of us who rely on them for programs, services, protection, and well-being.

Unless dramatic changes are made, both bills would have a devastating impact on nonprofits and the communities they serve.

1) Charitable giving will plunge — By increasing the standard deduction, both bills would reduce the percentage of taxpayers who itemize from 30 percent to only 5 percent. Although technically the charitable giving deduction remains intact in each bill, far fewer households will be able to use it, resulting in an estimated $13 billion drop in charitable giving every year. Nonprofits have pressed for a provision to extend the charitable deduction to non-itemizers so that taxpayers at all income levels would benefit from their generosity, but so far neither bill includes it.

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New national data about homelessness hold encouraging news for the region, especially New Jersey.

The annual report, released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows that homelessness in the Garden State dropped by 50.7 percent over the last decade.

No other state had a bigger decline in homelessness during that span, according to the research.

Anti-homelessness activists in New Jersey say the decrease isn’t tied to just one factor, but many — including the increasing popularity of a “housing first” model.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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New York, New Jersey and Connecticut must reform their governing institutions, overhaul and integrate their transit networks, fight climate change, and make it less costly to live in the region. Those are the four major thematic prescriptions of the Fourth Regional Plan, a comprehensive vision released on Thursday by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a prominent urban think tank that has advocated for comprehensive urban development projects in the tri-state region for more than 90 years.    

The RPA is a private group composed of urban experts and business leaders who first came together to release a broad holistic plan for the New York metropolitan region in 1929. It has since grown into an influential research and advocacy organization and many of its proposals have informed state and local policy. The latest plan, as with past documents, proposes long-term solutions to major urban issues such as economic growth, mass transit, affordability, and housing.

The new plan is “much more inclusive” than past iterations, said RPA President Tom Wright, at the Thursday release at The New School in Manhattan. The RPA sought input from civic groups, community-based organizations, and thousands of residents from the region, he said, and employed analytical data tools that were unavailable in the past.

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U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and state Sen. Ron Rice Guest Columnists Asbury Park Press

When Newark resident Yanira Cortes’ landlord refused to address the crumbling ceiling, rats, roaches and mold plaguing her family in their rental home, she exerted her legal right to withhold her rent. Her landlord consequently brought multiple eviction proceedings against her.

Even though the court continually found in her favor, Yanira’s name was made available to nationwide tenant screening agencies that landlords use to evaluate potential tenants. As a result, Yanira has been effectively blacklisted from housing simply because she fought for her family. By trying to hold her landlord accountable, she unknowingly acquired an irremovable black mark on her record. She has been branded a “bad” tenant — no other landlord will rent to her, and she can’t find an affordable, safe place for her family to live.

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John Reitmeyer | November 28, 2017 NJ Spotlight

Possible elimination of deduction for state and local taxes has received lots of attention, but ending of tax-exempt status for certain bonds could also hurt New Jersey

As Congress is working to advance an ambitious plan to rewrite the federal tax code, most of the attention in New Jersey has been focused on a proposal to scale back or even eliminate the SALT deduction for state and local taxes. But many communities across the state could also see a big impact from new tax rules that are being proposed for investments in major building projects.

A largely overlooked section of the tax-overhaul legislation the U.S. House of Representatives passed earlier this month calls for an ending of the tax-exempt status of so-called private-activity bonds, which are often used to finance things like hospital facilities, university buildings, affordable housing, and infrastructure projects.

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What is Really Needed to End Opioid Addiction

by Kate Kelley, Monarch Housing

John O’Brien, who directs the Technical Assistance Collaborative's (TAC) work on substance use disorders writes, “The Trump administration’s interest in addressing the opioid epidemic is heartening, and last week’s proclamation is a welcome acknowledgment that opioid addiction and overdoses do indeed constitute a major public health crisis in our nation.”

O’Brien point out that in fact, billions of dollars are needed to end opioid addiction in the United States. “… There has at least been the promise of statutory and regulatory relief – with a particular focus on allowing states to waive the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion. This 52-year-old statute bars Medicaid payments for mental health and addiction treatment provided to individuals in large treatment facilities, and some advocates assert that waiving it will allow Medicaid funds to flow for thousands of substance use disorder (SUD) treatment beds that currently lie empty.”

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Provider groups ‘cautiously optimistic’ about massive integration of behavioral and physical healthcare

Three weeks after the switch became official, state leaders have held public meetings in all 21 New Jersey counties and have begun to move hundreds of employees into new quarters as part of a massive government reorganization of behavioral health services.

Office moves will continue through early November and meetings at three of the state’s four psychiatric hospitals have been scheduled for later this month to allow staff, residents, and their family members to ask questions about what is a major evolution of state oversight.

The changes are part of a controversial plan to shift the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services from its former home in the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health, proposed by Gov. Chris Christie in late June, as lawmakers were focused on a last-minute struggle to balance the state’s budget.

The reorganization is designed to better align physical healthcare with behavioral health services — something many experts agree is important to improving patient outcomes — and create a more efficient and effective state system. The governor’s order was informed by a 2016 study of New Jersey’s system by Seton Hall professor John Jacobi that identified a number of bureaucratic and cultural hurdles to better integration.

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Colleen O'Dea | October 12, 2017

Housing is more than shelter: It’s a vital component in the health, growth, and economic wellbeing of the Garden State

New Jersey’s next governor faces daunting housing problems that are widespread and complex, ranging from a lack of affordable homes in walkable communities to a glut of McMansions in suburbs that are no longer in vogue — and little available land on which to fix the imbalance, a new report warns.

The fifth in The Fund for New Jersey’s “Crossroads NJ” series of reports aimed at informing public debate during this election year has a long title that sums up a good portion of the state’s housing problems: “Communities of Opportunity: New Jerseyans Need More Affordable, Convenient, and Safe Places to Call Home.” (The organization is a funder of NJ Spotlight.)

“There are just simply not the resources available to build the homes that we need and the reason for that is a completely out-of-balance housing market,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “There’s lot of development that builds very large homes for very wealthy people but does not build starter homes and homes that are available for working families, seniors, and people with disabilities. And we certainly have a huge problem with the availability of rental apartments that families can move into.”

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John Reitmeyer | October 3, 2017

New Jersey would be hit hard by the elimination of a federal deduction for state and local taxes, but bipartisan opposition is growing to any such change

The Trump administration’s recent tax-reform proposals have a key provision that would hit blue states particularly hard — the elimination of a federal deduction for state and local taxes. But while the GOP-dominated Congress might not need Democratic votes to get the provision passed, it does need the support of Republicans, some of whom — including U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th) — have stepped up in opposition.

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 N.J. shifts affordable housing funds beyond state's inner cities

By Ted Sherman,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON--New affordable housing in New Jersey has long been planted, in large part, in communities where there are poor people.

But in a major change, the Christie Administration has begun steering more funding for low-income projects beyond just the urban neighborhoods of the state's largest cities.

Earlier this summer, the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency awarded $39.8 million in tax credits for low-income housing projects, earmarking 60 percent of those funds for proposed developments beyond Newark and Camden, officials said.

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Posted by on in OpEd

Huffington Post

Dr. Munr Kazmir 

Doctor, businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist

As a New Jersey resident, that’s why I’m proud to say I truly commend the job Eric Jackson is doing as Mayor in Trenton, NJ.

I’ve known Mayor Jackson for a while and have always found him to be a strong thinker and somebody who knows how to get things done. Even though he is a Democrat, Jackson has worked with Republican Governor Chris Christie if he felt the effort suited his constituents, political parties be damned.

As Vice President of the American Jewish Congress, I have worked with him on reaching out to Israeli businesses as far as getting them to consider doing business in Trenton. He’s able and willing to work with anybody he needs to in order to yield positive results for the people in his city.

That is why I was pleased to see that the Department of Housing and Urban Development granted Trenton $3.8 million to find permanent housing for the homeless.

Trenton has vowed to use that money to fund emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, and rental assistance in conjunction with 15 non-profits.

This effort really warms my heart, because quite frankly, for all the talk of who is a bigger victim than who in this country, homeless people are truly, visibly suffering and are the most venerable among us. They need real, tangible help and I am very glad that such a competent and caring leader is out on the front lines doing everything he can to make sure that they get it.

 

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Legislating Against Blacklisting to Help Tenants Find Better Housing

Landlords deny that it’s done, but tenants who withhold rent to protest unhealthy living conditions often can’t find another place to live

Blacklist building
The Pueblo City building that Yanira Cortes says is infested with rats and other vermin.

Yanira Cortes hits play and her phone displays a video of the wood-floored hallway of her Newark apartment. After a few seconds, a large brown rat scurries across the floor from one corner of the hall into an open doorway.

“My 9-year old daughter shot that at 3:45 in the morning,” says Cortes, a mother of four kids who range in age from 2 to 12. “She’s up because she’s afraid to sleep with the rats … I check them every morning for rat bites.”

This is just one problem she has faced in her federally subsidized two-bedroom apartment in the Pueblo City building; there have been problems with the heat and a leaky bathroom ceiling that brought mold. While moving would be difficult financially, Cortes has tried to secure another rental, only to fail the background check.

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By Claude Brodesser-Akner | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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By Andrew Schmertz
Correspondent

While the state’s reported homeless population continues a years-long decline, the people on the ground say there is no victory to declare.

The executive director of the Isaiah House shelter in East Orange notes that she now sees large amounts of families coming in for help.

“For us we’re seeing a lot of families that are nontraditional, meaning not just mom and dad. It’s been that people are trying to come together to be able to make ends meet. So for instance in our shelter we may get an aunt with the mom and the kids,” said Executive Director of Isaiah House Zammeah Bivins-Gibson.

The survey was conducted by Monarch Housing Associates, a nonprofit group that monitors homelessness. The one day snapshot is taken each year in January.

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By Debra L. Wentz

The state Legislature will soon release its budget for fiscal year 2018.  It is imperative that it include safety net funding for community-based providers as their mental health services are transitioned to a fee-for-service reimbursement system.

This funding is critical to ensuring that tens of thousands of New Jerseyans do not lose access to services that will leave them at risk of health complications requiring much more costly treatment in emergency departments and hospital inpatient units.

Keeping providers fiscally viable so they can maintain patient access to care, as well as continuity and quality of care, will not only save thousands of lives, but will also save the state millions of dollars.

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Who trusts Christie not to scrimp on the mentally ill?

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board

The Christie administration has been trying to cut costs in the treatment of people with serious mental illnesses, and while our state could certainly use the savings, the risk is obvious. We need to make sure this doesn't hurt actual care.
 
The patients we're talking about include a man who drove his car into a building and attempted suicide-by-cop during a spell of psychosis, and another who ended up fatally shooting his wife in front of their 12-year-old kid, then himself.
 
Desperate people, who can sometimes become dangerous if they lapse on their medication. At the very least, they will end up in our emergency rooms, the most expensive place to get care.

Now the state is seeking to cut funding to the struggling community mental health centers that are their last resort, the only place many can afford to go. Like CarePlus in Bergen County, which advertises on the George Washington Bridge to save would-be jumpers.
 
The goal is to pay for each service rendered, rather than a guaranteed lump payment - what's known as fee-for-service. By reimbursing clinics for each therapy session after it's provided, and paying only for the work that they do, the state should see savings. It all sounds reasonable.
 
Problem is, many of the state's reimbursements are still too low, and centers say they can't absorb the cuts without slashing crucial care. They no longer have enough financial cushion to pay for overhead costs, like salaries for psychiatrists whose patients don't always show up.
 
Some are already laying off staff. When Michigan made this change between 2014 and 2016, about 10,000 people lost services. It's not clear what, if anything, Christie officials are doing to prevent the same from happening here.

The governor signed a bill earlier this year that requires independent monitoring of this reform, but we won't see those results for quite a while. In the meantime, Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) is proposing a measure that would set aside $90 million to reimburse providers who fall short in the first year of the new system.
 
That's a prudent move, because this is the kind of spending cut that could backfire if not done carefully. And in these cases, we can't afford error.

Consider the man who attempted suicide-by-cop. He's now back on his meds, at home and doing well. But that depended on care that extended beyond a billable hour; helping him navigate the court system and find a job, for instance.
 
If he stops showing up for his appointments, it will take more outreach, which centers say they can no longer afford.

"The state is characterizing this as, 'We don't want to pay for somebody who doesn't show up for a visit.' But we're set up to go find someone when they don't show up - that's the whole purpose of the community health center," said Joe Masciandaro, the head of CarePlus.
 
And when a troubled guy like that goes missing, we want them to have every incentive to find him.

 

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