The Pandemic that we experienced has greatly affected all parts of our society and economy. As so often happens, it is the poor that are grossly overaffected. We will be focusing our immediate efforts on helping tenants over the next few months to know their rights and provide resources for their dealing with their immediate needs.
The affordable housing crisis was profoundly imbedded in New Jersey long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020; but now it has reached present and projected tsunamic proportions. Before the pandemic subsides, reliable current studies project that around 400,000 tenant households in our state are now or will be behind in their rent due to job losses and other expenses caused by the virus and the economic shut down.
For over 50 years the Catholic Bishops of the U.S. and our Archdiocese have been fully present in advocating for a resolution to this ongoing affordable housing crisis. For instance, the Bishops in 1975 issued a pastoral letter, “The Right to a Decent Home: A Pastoral Response to the Crisis in Housing” that is grounded in Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching:
“As preachers of the Gospel, we proclaim the message of Jesus Christ who identifies Himself with the needs of the least of the brethren. The second great commandment is to love our neighbor. We cannot deny the crying needs for decent housing experienced by the least of the brethren in our society. Effective love of neighbor involves concern for his or her living conditions.” The Right to a Decent Home (1975), para. 6, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/housing-homelessness/right-to-a-decent-home.cfm
New Jersey’s five Catholic Charities offices in the dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Metuchen–that are on the front lines in the fight to end homelessness and housing insecurity–have similarly described the extent of this crisis prior to onset of the pandemic. See, NJ.Com (July 2019) https://www.nj.com/opinion/2019/07/our-affordable-housing-crisis-needs-immediate-action-say-all-5-directors-of-njs-catholic-charities.html.
At the Archdiocesan level for our four counties—Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union—Cardinal Joseph Tobin established his Commission on Peace and Justice which has several Task Forces. The Commission’s mission includes: Catechizing the faithful on the social teachings of the Church; deepening awareness of social justice as an indispensable component of authentic Christian living; integrating the Church’s teachings on social justice with particular concern for the poor and vulnerable within all the ministries of the Archdiocese; and, empowering Social Justice Committees of parishes in their work and ministry.
The Commission’s Task Force on Affordable Housing has organized the following community education program to assist vulnerable tenants to negotiate the landlord-tenant court eviction process and ways to obtain rental assistance for back and future rent.