Jersey City Council approves AHO despite opposition from neighborhood groups


The Jersey City Council approved the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO), changing the zoning in many parts of the city with the goal of creating more affordable units, despite opposition from neighborhood groups at last night’s meeting.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“It will end the possibility of homeownership in Jersey City. If developers get a shot at it to make more, who will be able to afford these homes again? Where are the first-time homeowners going to go?,” Jeanne Daly asked.

“You’re going to jack up the rental market. Put in a holding pattern.”

While many spoke out against the measure prior to the vote, there were some in favor as well.

“This is a segregated city and an unequal city and unaffordable city. I think this is s small step to addressing that,” Matt Bewley stated.

Many who spoke out against were part of a neighborhood association or other local advocacy group.

“A lot of residents in my neighborhood didn’t know this was happening. It’s in plain sight, but it’s hiding. We’re asking for this to be tabled because we need more information,” noted Laura Moss, of the Hilltop Neighborhood Association.

She also didn’t think the availability of more housing units would make rents decrease.

“We kind of assume they’ll work for the public good somehow, but they’re [developers] out there to make a profit. I’m one of 15 neighborhood associations that have come out against this.”

Safe Streets President Jimmy Lee said he thought the proposed AHO was a step int he right direction.

“Affordability is a really difficult issue in Jersey City today. It is, and we should treat it like a crisis. Rents have gone up 20 percent, 40 percent in the last year. Many renters, many tenants, are not represented at most associations.”

Norrice Raymaker, of the Sgt. Anthony Park Neighborhood Association, said they were against it and had not heard from the planning department.

“We have routinely opposed development without affordable housing. The ordinance is weak. It does little for affordability, and it is a giveaway to developers. We request that this item is tabled,” she said, stating that their should public hearings in every city ward prior to a council vote.

“Even though we have had very good relations, friends, in the planning department, we think we need more time to discuss what our fears are,” Vice President of the Pershing Field Neighborhood Association Vice President Caroline Katz-Mount said.

“The developers get a kind of carte blanche to do the developing in almost any way they want. They’re not required to meet us. But they do need to get variances. They now have to adjust to what we want to some degree.”

Colin DeVries, of Safe Streets JC, concurred with Lee that this would have a positive impact in the city.

“You hear about the problems people are having day to day making ends meet. 70 percent of Jersey City are renters. It’s cheaper to demo than rehab,” he noted about some older homes.

DeVries continued that many developers are building 14-unit buildings to not trigger the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO), which mandates affordable housing at 15 units or more.

Ward E Councilman James Solomon voted no to close the hearing when someone not on the speaking list approached the microphone.

“If I give it to you, I have to give it to someone else,” Council President Joyce Watterman said.

“You’re changing and rezoning the entire city. I beg you to give us a hearing,” Barbara Camacho asked..

“You’re the only one that stood up,” Watterman said.

“Other people just got here,” Camacho replied.

Eventually Watterman conceded and allowed her to speak.

“This ordinance is shifting the burden to residents, and we’re shouldering the cost. I think this is expediting gentrification. Sometimes we win, and many times we lose, but at least we get the opportunity to fight. This is not well suited for Ward A,” she said.

Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, who came out adamantly against the proposal at Tuesday’s caucus, reiterated that many in the city did not want to see a vote yet.

“15 block associations represent thousands of people who want this postponed,” he exclaimed.

“We are about 12,000 units short. It’s about increasing housing variety, and housing types,” Planning Director Tanya Marione replied, reminding that they held many public meetings on the subject.

She also stated that the R-1 zone that was being changed used to allow for a greater variety of housing.

“There was an intentional downzoning in the R-1 zone. We heard the feedback and made amendments. Tear downs and rebuilds are happening whether this ordinance passes or not,” Marione asserted.

“I feel like I’m in a position of fighting with neighborhood associations. The Biden Administration put in the infrastructure bill grants tied to cities that remove obstacles for multifamily housing.”

Boggiano didn’t budge, stating that “we’re being destroyed in this city” by more density and that many residents were completely unaware this was happening.

“Is this endorsed by Fair Share Housing (Center)?,” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh asked.

“Yes, they are,” Marione replied.

Saleh noted that they sued the city to overturn the original IZO last summer.

“Where do they live Tanya?,” Boggiano asked, drawing applause from the crowd. Watterman then asked him not to make it a habit to attack Marione.

“What is the process you have when you want to engage the community?,” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore asked.

“We had targeted walking tours for the community most impacted,” Marione said, along with virtual meetings.

She noted only the Greenville steering committee requested a meeting.

“We actively sent out requests for meetings. We got no response,” Marione added, noting that they held five or six community meetings.

Gilmore acknowledged some were held in Ward F, but he argued that many still had concerns and had not been able to vocalize them – while developers had a prominent seat at the table.

“The Journal Square Association and Hilltop … are working on a program for affordable housing, which I think will be very satisfactory,” Boggiano chimed in.

“We just have to see if their plan will work,” Watterman replied.

“There’s three amendments attached to the ordinance,” City Clerk Sean Gallagher said.

“We’re not tabling it?” Boggiano asked.

“I recommend doing the amendments first,” Solomon said.

Gallagher said the amendments addressed waiving certain payments of landlords, differences in contributions, and other technical differences.

Gilmore and Boggiano voted no on the amendments, which passed 7-2.

Boggiano made a motion to table that Gilmore seconded.

“This is an out-and-out sham,” Boggiano said when voting to table the ordinance.

“I’m going to vote yes. In the past, we have tabled ordinances … and used that time to effectively improve them. I do not support an indefinite delay. I have had a number of different groups reach out,” Solomon explained.

The motion to table failed 6-3, with Solomon, Gilmore, and Boggiano voting yes.

“I can’t say there weren’t meetings in Ward A. I want to commend [Ward B] Councilwoman [Mira] Prinz-Arey in making these amendments. No law we make is perfect. I think we should move forward,” stated Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley.

She praised the Fair Share Housing Center for its work on affordable housing and noted residents had often expressed that the administration should work with them.

Prinz-Arey noted there had been several delays on affordable housing.

“We had two ordinances before the council, and we tabled both of them. It took us two years, and it was contentious for the whole two years. We put it forward, and we were sued by Fair Share Housing. So, we had to put another ordinance forward,” she said about the IZO.

“Now we have three years without affordable units coming out of the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance. We have people calling our office ‘I really don’t know where me and my family are going to go.’”

Predictably, Boggiano remained unmoved and voted no, citing the dismay from the neighborhood associations who spoke before the council.

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh called the measure good policy even if it may not be perfect.

“This ordinance is good policy. Born and raised in R-1 since day one. What I have seen is the demolition of homes and replaced with nearly million-dollar condos. The developers they’re making windfalls. There’s no way for us to stop it,” Saleh said.

“This allows for a variety of housing stock. It is not changing the height of the building. It is not changing the bulk of the building. Who can afford three and half thousand in rent? No one. I have seen my friends have to leave. If you want to preserve and save the neighborhood, we have to put in renter controls. This proposal does give homeowners a chance of survival.”

Solomon voted yes, stating that expensive housing is the biggest problem in the city, while Gilmore said he could not support a measure that heavily favors developers.

“We are addressing what the residents are asking for; limiting high rises, in support of affordable housing, and stopping demoing: They’re already taking advantage of our system,” explained Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise.

“There are always people on both sides of the coin. I’m more nervous about a police officer who doesn’t have a place to say. Some people really need a place to stay … It will help Black and Brown people who are really suffering,” Watterman stated.

She also said some people were not truthful about not getting in contact with the planning department.

The measure passed 7-2, with Boggiano and Gilmore voting no.

Mayor Steven Fulop, a strong proponent of the ordinance, lauded the council vote on Twitter.

“A big step – progress for a city won’t happen without ppl having courage to try new things. Affordable Housing Overlay APPROVED 7-2 – As Fair Share Housing said “We’re glad to see JC expand on the existing IZO w/this innovative approach. Prioritizing/maintaining affordability..”

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