Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake Credit: Campaign photo

Housing advocates were honored for their efforts to protect homeowners and renters negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic at Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake’s (D-34) third annual awards celebration. Compassionate NJ, whose core members are the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, Ironbound Community Corporation, Fair Share Housing Center, New Jersey Citizen Action, and the New Jersey Organizing Project, received the Albert Pelham Award in recognition of a successful advocacy campaign to secure ground breaking housing protections in NJ.

“We are proud to have been part of hard-fought efforts to protect housing security for the Garden State’s most vulnerable residents during the pandemic, and are deeply honored to receive the inaugural Albert Pelham Award for our collective advocacy to keep people safely and stably housed,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ. “Thanks to Assemblywoman Timberlake, her colleagues in the Legislature, Gov. Murphy and Lt. Gov. Oliver, we were able to deliver some of the nation’s strongest protections and hundreds of millions of dollars to tens of thousands of homeowners and renters, preventing a tsunami of evictions and foreclosures that would irreparably harm families and devastate our economy for years to come. We will honor Mr. Pelham’s legacy by continuing this work and advancing our agenda to HouseNJ.”

“As advocates, getting the difficult done is all in our day’s work. But, to paraphrase Billie Holiday, the impossible took us a little while,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, financial justice program director at New Jersey Citizen Action. “We thank Assemblywoman Timberlake for her commitment, drive and leadership in getting the impossible done to protect New Jersey tenants and homeowners from losing their homes because of the COVID 19 pandemic. We thank her for honoring the collective advocacy of Compassionate NJ as well as all of the housing advocates across the state with the inaugural and inspirational Albert Pelhem award.”

Last summer, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a package of legislation promoted by the Compassionate NJ consortium and its legislative champions, to address housing insecurity in the state. The package includes a bill that converts missed rental payments from March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021 to civil debt and cannot be reported to creditors or be used to deny future housing. The bill also contains a provision that allocated $500 million of American Rescue Plan dollars for rental assistance under the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) as well as $250 million for utility payments. It also protected NJ tenants earning at or below 120 percent of their county’s area median income (AMI) from being evicted for missed rental payments during the public health emergency.

Also included in the package, renters’ court records related to missed rent during the emergency period would remain confidential and unavailable to the public. All pandemic-related eviction actions would redact all names and addresses reducing the possibility of an additional tenant blacklist that could prevent tens of thousands of families from finding homes in the future. The legislation also authorized a program that would provide financial assistance for homeowners with payment arrears which was recently launched by the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

“As recipients of the 2022 Albert Pelham Award for our collective efforts through Compassionate NJ, we would like to take this opportunity once again to proclaim that housing is a human right,” said Maria López-Nunez, deputy director, organizing and advocacy for Ironbound Community Corporation. “It is a privilege to be honored in the Albert Pelham legacy, through the work of ensuring that people are able to keep the roof over their head after a traumatizing and excruciatingly painful period in history. We are humbled by Asw. Timerberlake recognizing Compassionate NJ’s effort in realizing the ‘People’s Bill’ A-4034/S-2340.”

The Albert Pelham Award was named after Albert Pelham, a longtime president of the Montclair NAACP and executive director of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation, who fought for civil rights and opportunities for the underserved. Honorees joining Compassionate NJ during the celebration included NJ Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver; Adam Bulent Ozdemir, executive director, Peace Islands Institute; and Dr. Karma Brown Warren, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

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