The Jersey City Council aired out questions and concerns about the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay, which could potentially have a big impact on affordable units, during this afternoon’s caucus meeting.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The ordinance is up for second reading on Thursday and cleared the Jersey City Planning Board in July.
“A lot of people want this postponed. I’m asking this be pulled because there are lot of questions that people want to be answered. No one is against affordable housing. People are concerned about the increase in density,” stated Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano.
He said it would encourage people to come to Jersey City, buy a one-family home and build luxury buildings.
“We have a one- and two-family neighborhood, and we want to keep it that way. This whole ordinance is so vague. There is an uproar through many communities. We have to pull this and sit down,” Boggiano exclaimed, also stating many residents were not notified.
He also said that many residents are upset about this proposal, which he claimed would raise rents.
“This has been out since July,” replied Planning Director Tanya Marione, arguing that they did a lot of outreach and many neighborhood associations were informed.
Marione added that a zoning change in 2000 allowed far more one-and-two-family houses than the city ever had and that has been the main cause of affordable housing issues in the city.
“We don’t believe this ordinance is vague at all. We added some amendments. If a unit is triggered, it has to be a three-bedroom apartment. They’re not allowed to ask for an additional story,” she added.
“This actually hits the 15 units and below, while the IZO (Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance) doesn’t.”
Boggiano remained unconvinced, since it would impact parking, density, and the city’s housing stock in ways that residents have spoken out against.
Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore agreed with Boggiano that they should pump the brakes on this proposal.
“Given the magnitude of how this will reshape the R-1 it requires a little more dialogue. I don’t think anyone is necessarily against it. Can we slow this down?,” he asked.
“The R-1 encompasses about 30 percent of the housing stock in Jersey City. It’s going to be a drastic change. I just think we need more dialogue. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
City Supervising Planner Matthew Ward said about six studios can go in a Bayonne box, noting they seek to eliminate the proliferation of studios versus family-friendly units.
“It would have to be a three-bedroom. It would be 30 percent AMI (average market income) and below. It would greatly limit the amount of units,” Marione said about the ordinance.
She also said there have been several public meetings on the issue.
“We are one of the most transparent, resident-friendly planning departments this city has ever seen,” she also asserted, continuing that some neighborhood associations didn’t get back to them, as well as trying to work through some scheduling conflicts.
Gilmore remained steadfast in his request to postpone the vote, questioning if the current house stock would have an issue due to pushing the vote back.
“I can’t answer that. It’s part of the package. I cannot carry things. It belongs in phase one corrective zoning. The R-1 is clearly our weakest zone that we have the most variances. We tried to separate them out where there is conversation,” Marione answered.
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh also had some questions and concerns.
“Is this going to essentially destroy the culture and character of our community in the Heights? Or is it simply allowing for a diversity of housing options?,” he asked.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Marione responded.
She said that illegal third apartments have been a problem in the city for the last 20 years.
“That third unit can be legalized. If you want to have that or two units, you’re exempt for paying not the housing affordable trust fund. So, it encourages homeownership,” she noted.
She explained if the illegal third unit were legalized through the ordinance, it would require landlords to pay into the affordable housing trust fund, pay more taxes, and keep their units up to code.
“For the affordable housing trust fund, is there a way for money to go to a particular ward?,” Saleh also questioned.
“It does not specify anything about wards and spending in wards. It’s certainly something if council people wish to explore, we’d be happy to meet and explore it,” Ward replied.
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey also brought up concerns from her constituents.
“We really are not going to know the full ramifications no matter what plans moves forward. It is incumbent that all departments are studying it. What is the process, and what is that trigger? That is, in my mind, is another safeguard,” she explained.
“When an affordable unit is required … it is going to be a very low-income unit, up to 30 percent of the AMI. We’re building in very deep affordability,” Ward answered.
In that scenario, the councilwoman inquired what the responsibility of the property owner would be.
“It is voluntary. There will be an application. If it’s a certain size, it will have to go before a land use board. They will have to show compliance with the affordable housing overlay,” said Ward.
He noted that different areas in the city vary with different percentages should a landlord choose that.
“It will be up to the Division of Zoning and City Planning to ensure those contributions are collected. There’s now a whole infrastructure … to make sure we enact this properly,” Ward stated.
Council President Joyce Watterman noted that the council receives a lot of messages from tenants in a third unit that are not taken care of.
“It makes 30 to 40 percent of all violations on an annual basis. This is a lot of housing that’s informal for populations that are in desperate need of affordable housing,” Ward said.
“How would that specifically work? If this passes, how is it then legalized?,” chimed in Ward E Councilman James Solomon.
Ward explained that landlords would have to submit plans to create units, which would vary by zone, on site or contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He also explained that owner-occupants could be waived if they are in the right zone.
Boggiano again insisted this would raise rents, claiming that he had spoken to 200 people “that are violently against this” and who were not properly informed.
“We’ve done all the public notifications,” Business Administrator John Metro said.
“What is the danger in prolonging it? Clearly, people are enraged. What is the danger in that?,” Gilmore asked.
Watterman said there was no danger, but that the measure had already been tabled to get more community dialogue.
“The communities don’t know anything about it,” Boggiano stated.
“That’s not a true statement,” Watterman replied.
“What’s the rush? Why not have more dialogue?,” Gilmore asked again.
Watterman said that several council people had meetings on the topic and were okay with the changes, though understood that not everyone was going to support it.
“It’s a lot of ppl who are missing out. There are people living in slums because of that third unit. They are not being properly cared for,” Watterman said.
“Zero protections,” Saleh added.
Marione said that there is a 12,000-unit shortage in the area, largely because it took two years to get a functioning Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO).
She argued the current process is conducive to the demolition of one- and two-family houses and their replacement with luxury buildings.
“Just the opposite Tanya,” Boggiano replied.
Prior to the planning board vote, the city announced in July that Tier 1 would be assigned to developments below 120 percent AMI in low, moderate, or middle income Census tracts will require a minimum of 10 percent affordable housing on-site.
Additionally, Tier 2 developments will be reserved for 120% AMI in upper income census tracts will require a minimum of 15 percent affordable housing on-site.
The Jersey City Council will convene for their regular session at City Hall, 280 Grove St., on Thursday at 6 p.m., which will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.
Who is going to oversee the apartments or houses with overcrowding. Once a person receives their apartment, they’ll bring 6-7 people into the building.