February 11, 2015

“Public safety and public health are two critical priorities of my administration and they are intertwined. Unsafe buildings create health and safety hazards that endanger our residents, breed crime, and imperil our efforts to transform Newark into a City we can all believe in.”  This statement was made by Mayor Ras Baraka on January 22, 2015 after a thorough investigation of housing complaints made by residents of 416 Irvine Turner Blvd (source: NJ.com). While the building owners, tenants, and city officials work together to combat this matter, this situation brings to light the intersection of public safety and housing policies.

Public safety incorporates government as well as private sector initiatives to address a variety of neighborhood challenges.  These initiatives could be as formal as a statewide department of public health, county based department of housing and as grassroots as a neighborhood watch or tenant association.  In the end, all community stakeholders share the same purpose of ensuring a safe place to live, work, and play.  Sharing the same purpose and working collaboratively will lead to incessant community revitalization and transformation.

Working collaboratively in circumstances similar to 416 Irvine Turner Blvd. helps avoid potential health and safety hazards.  In this case both tenant and landlord accountabilities are important to the housing conditions.  Therefore, understanding what basic requirements are for quality housing is the first step.  In the state of New Jersey all multiple family dwellings are protected by the NJ Hotel and Multiple Family Dwelling Law.  The law provides accountabilities for both tenant and landlord to ensure they fulfill their duties.  As owners and landlords, they must ensure that there is a safe entry and exit, appropriate utilities and appliances, and attention to any necessary service or repair.  The owner, or occupant of the space is responsible for ensuring safe and sanitary conditions of their designated space.   Neglect on any part can and will lead to unsafe conditions and punitive consequences.

Unsafe buildings, if left in uninhabitable condition, lead to urban blight.  Consequences of blight include continual impact on health and safety, such as improper garbage disposal, which subsequently leads to infestation of rodents that may carry or transmit diseases.  One major effect includes asthma in children.  According to the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services, residents of Newark have disproportionately high rates of hospitalizations and emergency room visits as a result of asthma-related illnesses. Such condition could lead to academic challenges, as they are often absent from school due to health challenges.  Many reports and studies confirm that low attendance in school leads to lower academic success rate in children.  In addition to health challenges, blight often leads to spaces being used for illegal activities.  This includes crimes against properties, prostitution, and drug activity(source: Abandoned Buildings: Model for Legislative and Enforcement Reform, Trinity College).

While the state and local governments provide the framework for safe conditions for housing, the community as a whole plays a critical role in the social, political, and economical transformation of communities.  On June 6, 2015, Leadership Newark will continue to foster this discussion through its annual public policy summit.  The summit will feature keynote speakers and public safety and education experts and will provide the necessary space for all community stakeholders to educate themselves about their community, find ways to engage in transforming their city and empower those around them.

Stay updated on the Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit by checking out the Summit website at www.leadershipnewark.org/lnsummit and joining our email list on the Leadership Newark website home page.  We will continue to announce new developments on our Facebook (leadershipnewark) and Twitter (@leadershipnwk) over the coming months.