An Affordable Downtown

What We've Done

I am the only candidate in Ward E who refuses to take donations from Jersey City real estate developers.


Jersey City should be an equitable city for all. To accomplish that goal, politicians must stand up to real estate developers. Jersey City must demand that developers construct infrastructure for a liveable city and housing for an affordable city.


Because of my independence from developers, I have accomplished:


  • Granted ZERO tax breaks for developers in the four years compared to 39 such tax breaks to real estate developers in four years prior.

  • Uncovered a broken system of tenant protections with a months-long investigation, leading to aggressive enforcement action against bad landlords.

  • Fought against Jersey City’s Inclusionary Zoning Law, which was called “deeply flawed,” by NJ's top affordable housing advocates.

What We're Going to Do


A Plan for an Affordable Downtown


Jersey City’s diversity is its strength. Yet, for decades, the development of downtown benefited politically connected developers, not the people of Jersey City. That process led to the displacement of thousands of long-term residents.


Downtown should be a culturally rich and diverse community, made of people from every background, creed and class. If Downtown is truly going to remain open for everyone, then our city government must do much more to ensure development benefits every single resident. We need more affordable housing, more housing supply, and better protections for tenants.


Downtown has roughly 30,000 total units of housing, but only less than 2,000 or those homes - 6%- are affordable. Another 3% are subject to rent control. Under development plans put in place by prior administrations, less than 250 of the units yet to be built will be affordable. All of those statistics are unacceptable. Simply put, we must do more to increase the supply of affordable housing downtown.


As the city failed to build homes people can afford, rent went up. In the last ten years, average rent has steadily increased, and is now a staggering $2,800 for a small studio apartment, and even more for a multi-bedroom unit.. These exorbitant prices mean nearly 50% of Jersey City households spend too much on rent. Unsurprisingly, this had led to widespread displacement of long-term residents in Downtown.


We need to strike a better balance between equity and growth. Here’s how we do it:


  1. Pass stronger tenant protections. In 2019, I produced a report detailing a crisis in Jersey City’s rent-control system. Illegal and unethical practices by landlords frequently forced tenants out of their homes. Jersey City must strengthen protections for tenants to prevent this displacement and fund aggressive enforcement to catch bad actors.

  2. Triple the number of affordable homes built in downtown Jersey City. By leveraging city owned land, we can build significantly more homes working people can afford Downtown. In partnership with key neighborhood stakeholders, we will develop a plan to build more affordable housing.

  3. Pass a smart, strong new law mandating affordable homes in all new developments. In 2020, I voted against Jersey City’s Inclusionary Zoning Law, which was called deeply flawed,” by NJ's top affordable housing advocates. This year, a judge threw that ordinance out as illegal. I am committed to passing a new ordinance with strict rules, and no loopholes, to maximize the amount of affordable housing constructed.

  4. Fund a “Housing First” plan to ensure all residents without a home can find permanent supportive housing. Building off the construction of permanent supportive housing at the new St. Lucy’s Homeless shelter, we should develop a Housing First program for Jersey City. Housing First is a nationally recognized policy approach that focuses on moving individuals and families experiencing homelessness into safe, permanent housing as soon as possible, and then providing supportive services to help them remain in their home. Study after study has shown that this approach is the most effective and humane solution to homelessness.

 

Pass Stronger Tenant Protections


Back in 2019, my team and I conducted a six-month study that identified a rent-control crisis among Downtown’s roughly 1,000 rent controlled housing units. Among other things, we found that it was all too common for landlords to raise rents illegally, sometimes by as much as 50% in a single year. Other practices, like the abuse of things like the “demolition loophole,” have made it possible for rent-controlled buildings to be taken down and replaced with market rate units, effectively reducing our supply of affordable housing, right when we need it to be growing. We also found landlords abusing other loopholes too, like the “vacancy loophole”, where landlords push tenants out, either legally or illegally, so developers can then renovate their units and re-rent them for higher market-rates, with almost no oversight from the city. To prevent displacement, we must close these loopholes.


My report laid out eight policy recommendations, I will continue to fight to implement in Jersey City. They are:

  1. Maintain a publicly searchable database of all rent controlled units in Jersey City with rents listed.

  2. Proactive outreach to tenants to alert them that they live in a rent controlled unit.

  3. Fine landlords who submit incomplete rent registration statements while offering education on how to fill out the form properly.

  4. Analyze “rent roll” for evidence of illegal rent increases or high rates of turnover.

  5. Encourage tenants who may be subject to illegal rent increases sto contest them.

  6. Simplify and streamline the process by which tenants challenge illegal rent increases.

  7. End the “Vacancy Loophole” for capital repairs.

  8. End the “Demolition Loophole” to stop the permanent loss of units.


These new protections for tenants are critical, but will be ineffective, if we don’t match this push with well funded and aggressive enforcement. Simply put, there needs to be a stronger deterrent to bad behavior. This means significant funding increases for the Jersey City’s Office of Housing Preservation and more frequent fines for developers and landlords who violate our laws.

 

Triple the number of affordable homes built in downtown Jersey City.


By leveraging city owned land, we can build significantly more homes that working people can afford Downtown. In partnership with key neighborhood stakeholders, we will develop a plan to build projects that close to triple the number of affordable units in our neighborhoods.


Better protections for tenants must be coupled with more affordable units. One policy tool to maximize We don’t have to turn a profit with this land, while a developer does, and importantly, we already own this land and hold it in trust to best serve the residents of our city. I think building a large number of affordable units on city owned parcels is exactly the type of thing city-owned assets should be used for.


My team and I have already identified 2 such parcels that we could work with developers to build an ambitious new supply of affordable units. One such site is 465 Marin Blvd, which is currently home to the soon to be demolished fire safety headquarters, and the other is the parking lot at 182 Newark Avenue on the pedestrian mall. Together, these sites could support more than 600 new units of affordable housing and still turn a profit for partner developers. How could we make this happen? In partnership with key neighborhood stakeholders, we will develop a plan to build out these projects, and do so using a community driven process. I will work to pass an ordinance at city council to request the drafting of redevelopment plans with mandates for this new affordable housing. From there our professional planning staff will conduct a community-led review process and propose amendments. Finally, once passed, the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority (JCRA) would issue RFPs for developers to construct these new affordable housing units.

 

Pass a smart, strong new law mandating affordable homes in all new developments.


In 2020, I voted against Jersey City’s Inclusionary Zoning Law, which was called “deeply flawed,” by NJ's top affordable housing advocates. This year, a judge agreed with me and threw that ordinance out as illegal. I am committed to passing a new ordinance with strict rules, and no loopholes, to maximize the amount of affordable housing constructed. As I discussed above, there are a slew of loopholes that developers and landlords can take full advantage of to either increase rent on rent-controlled units, to evict tenants, and reduce our affordable housing stock. Sometimes this is done in a way that violates the law, like raising rent on uninformed tenants. Other times, it’s done in legal gray areas (using loopholes) that violate the spirit of affordable housing rules and contribute to the larger affordability crisis.


How do we fix this, and how do we create more affordable units moving forward? First we need to close overly-used loopholes and unethical practices like the “vacancy loophole’, the “demolition loophole” and rent rolling. Second, we need to pass a new and more ambitious inclusionary zoning law that will go further than the one that passed over my objections in 2020. That law allowed many developers to get away with building as little as 5% of their units as affordable, others were required to build 20% affordable, but only after they got generous variances from the city. We are not taking the affordability crisis seriously if we set the bar this low, and include generous loopholes. I am committed to fighting big developers and their allies, and pushing for a much higher “minimum affordability” requirement for all new developments.

 

Fund a “Housing First” plan to ensure all residents without a home can find permanent supportive housing.


Our homelessness problem is a direct result of the lack of easily accessible and affordable housing in Jersey City. With average rent last year at $2,800 for a small studio and climbing, it is no surprise many in our city cannot afford a stable place to live. Working with my colleagues on the City Council, we’ve made a good first step in providing our homeless population with permanent supportive housing at St. Lucy’s Homeless shelter. This will provide 165 new beds, which will make a huge difference in the lives of those who get a bed, but as of today, we still don't have adequate capacity to accommodate our entire homeless population. Not only is that inhumane to those on the streets, taxing on our emergency services and ethically wrong, it’s a policy choice. I want to make a different one.


Building off of the successes of other larger cities in the US, like San Francisco and Salt Lake City, we should develop a Housing First program for Jersey City. Housing First is a nationally recognized approach that focuses on moving individuals and families experiencing homelessness into safe, permanent housing as soon as possible and then providing supportive services to help them remain in their home. Study after study has shown that this approach is cheaper, more effective and more humane than most other solutions to homelessness.


Housing First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address their tougher-to-solve problems like behavioral health issues, or to graduate before they can access housing. This approach views housing as the foundation for life improvement, and enables access to permanent housing without prerequisites or conditions beyond those of a typical renter. Supportive services are offered to aid people with housing stability and individual well-being, but participation is not required as services have been found to be more effective when a person chooses to engage. Other approaches do make such requirements in order for a person to obtain and retain housing. By employing this innovative approach, as opposed to the slow and limited methods of the past, we can transform the lives of people experiencing homelessness in Downtown and quality of life for everyone who lives here.