The Jersey City Council is expected to vote on a right to counsel policy that would be paid for with new development fees collected by the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The ordinance, which would be up for first reading at the April 12th city council meeting, is sponsored by Councilmen Yousef Saleh, James Solomon, and Frank “Educational” Gilmore, with Mayor Steven Fulop already signaling he’s on board.
“We have made historic improvements to expand affordability and important protections for residents, and this right to counsel proposal will put the necessary policies in place to further help our most vulnerable families facing unfair evictions,” the mayor said in a statement.
“Most people facing eviction can’t afford an attorney to defend their basic human right to housing, and this RTC goes beyond funding their legal needs. It will also add critical funding to expand affordable housing opportunities for low- and middle-income residents for generations to come.”
Based on conservative estimates of development over the prior five years, residential development impact fees would provide an average of $20 million a year for affordable housing, sources familiar with the local legislation told HCV.
Per state law, 80 percent of the annual development impact fee revenue must be dedicated to the production of affordable housing and would be placed in the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Additionally, the final 20 percent of the annual development impact fee revenue will be used to fund Jersey City’s RTC program. A conservative estimate is that the program will average a $4 million annual budget.
With that budget, the Jersey City RTC program is estimated to provide legal representation and consultation to all Jersey City residents facing eviction – approximately 8,600 – and represent in court over 1,500 individuals annually.
“Everyone deserves the right to safe, affordable housing—and everyone deserves the right to keep that housing,” noted Solomon.
“We all want to reduce the number of evictions in our city, and to do that, we need to make sure that tenants are fairly represented in eviction court while ensuring that the developers profiting from rising rents pay what they owe.”
Eviction Lab indicates that there were 14,500 eviction filings in Hudson County in 2018, the most recent year that data is available.
Rents in the New York Metropolitan area increased about 10 percent between 2021 and 2022, according to Rent.com, and RTC programs (or something similar) exist in several New Jersey municipalities such as Edison, Woodbridge, Toms River, Hoboken, Clifton, Cherry Hill, Brick, Bayonne, and neighboring Union City.
“People facing eviction—disproportionately Black and brown communities—are currently not entitled to representation when facing eviction,” noted Gilmore.
“These are often the people who can’t afford private representation, while landlords and developers who make large profits can and do. It’s time to tip the scales back towards the people and ensure everyone has the right to fair representation.”
Furthermore, the proposed bill would establish a RTC office where tenants will be connected to legal services and resources such as rental assistance programs, while also establishing an implementation oversight board led by tenants.
This would fall under the Jersey City Department of Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce (HEDC).
“Right now, people can’t afford to pay skyrocketing rents, leaving more families at risk of eviction—while developers continue to get away with making record profits at our expense,” explained Saleh.
“We need to fight to keep Jersey City residents in their homes, because higher costs and a lack of legal protections are driving them out.”
Right to Counsel Jersey City Coalition Coordinator Isaac Jimenez, also the co-chair of the Hudson County Democratic Socialists of America, has been leading the charge on this issue and said that his organization is still pushing for a universal policy.
“We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of not just support, but organizations connecting housing protections and something like RTC with their own causes and we’re hoping for a good result such as an ordinance where all tenants are covered and becomes a universal policy,” he said.
“We hope the council chooses tenants over landlords and developers. And we’re really proud that the DSA has been leading the coalition.”