Chena Johnson had been homeless for more than three years after the Paterson Housing Authority terminated her federal housing benefits without a hearing. She took the housing agency to court for violating her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and won.
Johnson was homeless even after federal judge Esther Salas ruled in her favor in April 2019. She and her supporters blamed the Paterson Housing Authority for failing to up the value of her housing voucher and aid her in finding an apartment. She has had better luck recently and has found an apartment.
“Ms. Johnson has been provided with the relief she is seeking,” wrote Patrice Hobbs, outside counsel for the Paterson Housing Authority, to a federal judge on June 14, 2020.
Johnson confirmed she has found an apartment in the Riverview neighborhood. She had been looking for an apartment in the 1st Ward since the court ruling.
“I did find a little apartment. I found a landlord that was willing to accept the voucher,” said Johnson referring to Section 8 voucher. She said the Paterson Housing Authority approved the apartment on Holsman Street as of June 1.
The landlord wanted $1,500 for the apartment, but reduced the price to $1,350 because that’s all the housing agency would pay for the unit, she said.
Johnson said the landlord was nice enough to work with her. She said the housing agency is paying approximately $1,000 and she is paying the rest.
A key problem has been the housing agency has failed to notice rents have skyrocketed in Paterson, according to several landlords. It is offering below market vouchers, making it difficult for people like Johnson to find apartments.
Johnson had found a two-bedroom apartment, but the housing agency kept stating it was a three-bedroom and refused to approve it. She obtained documents from the city that showed it was a two-bedroom apartment with attic space.
Councilman Michael Jackson, who represents the 1st Ward, has blamed the Paterson Housing Authority and its director Irma Gorham for Johnson’s plight.
“The only thing I was a little unhappy about is that they wasn’t really willing to make it right,” said Johnson. That’s even after the federal judge put pressure on the housing agency.
The coronavirus pandemic also made the situation dire, said Johnson. Her daughter, who had stayed at a college campus, was forced to return home because of the virus, she said.
“That’s when the pressure was one. I had to find something. She is my baby and I had to protect her,” said Johnson.
A federal judge has scheduled a status conference on Johnson’s situation for August 13.
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