To The Editor:
Since 2018, I have served as Council liaison to both the Civil Rights Commission (CRC) and the Human Services Commission (HSC). I would like to explain the proposal to combine these committees with Affordable Housing to create a new consolidated committee.
Before being elected to Council, and while serving on the HSC, I was instrumental in creating the CRC as, what we hoped, would be a vehicle for social justice and racial equity. We faced persistent challenges in housing, employment, and quality of life that disproportionately affected our communities of color and threatened the diversity of our town. I believed that a CRC could help to address these issues. After more than three years working collaboratively with others, the ordinance establishing the CRC was adopted on October 24, 2016. I was proud and honored to serve as the Commission’s first chair beginning in January of 2017.
Over the last seven years, both CRC members and municipal staff have expressed increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of substantial progress. By N.J. law, the CRC cannot have investigative or enforcement powers, nor jurisdiction over civil rights violations. Individuals are referred by Princeton’s Human Services Department to the NJ Division on Civil Rights and provided with information on their rights under the law, and that service will continue. I believe that a new consolidated committee will enable greater coordination with municipal staff and elected officials, and foster collaboration among committee members. This will enhance their effectiveness in addressing, within the boundaries of N.J. law, Princeton’s goals of promoting civil rights, social justice, and racial equity.
To better support our most vulnerable population, we have worked in recent years, to expand access to housing, social services, and education programs. Consolidating the Health, Human Services, and Affordable Housing departments into the Health and Community Services Department has enhanced our ability to administer crucial programs that offer financial assistance, employment opportunities, housing support, and emergency aid to underserved residents. With increased staff capacity, we have been able to expand outreach efforts, educational programs, assistance in applying for affordable housing, and access to mental health and substance abuse services. Princeton is fortunate to have such a committed staff, and it is time to move to the next step: creating a committee that will serve in an advisory capacity to the various departments that now, together, comprise the Health and Community Services Department.
I have spent the last decade focused on the needs of Princeton’s underserved community members and I know we need a better system. The current siloed committees have led to ongoing frustration among committee members and staff. We hope that collaboration in the areas of housing and social services will enhance our overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable residents, while combating systemic racial inequity in Princeton. A consolidated approach will also result in more efficient use of staff and volunteer time and, most importantly, better results for the recipients of municipal services.
Councilwoman Leticia Fraga