The Jersey City Council heard more demands for rent control reforms, again largely from Portside Towers residents, as well as a few renewed calls for Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise to resign after resolving the case related to her July 19th hit-and-run.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“The people of Portside, I would ask that the city council listen to what they’re saying. We can work together to come to a resolution that’s fair, so we keep those with affordable housing in Jersey City,” Hudson County Commissioner Anthony “Stick” Romano said during public portion.
He added he now represents the area after redistricting.
“I’m here to stand in solidarity with the tenants of Portside Towers. Regular people are facing a rent hike of 30 percent,” Eleana Little, who is running for county executive, stated at the podium.
“Equity Residential, the nation’s 5th largest apartment building owner, is taking a gamble at renters’ expense. What is the tenant-landlord office doing? No filing, no exemption. The city should be enforcing its own rules.”
Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller, who has been an organizer in their efforts, added that the council has the ability to fix this through the new rent leveling director, Pastor Shyrone Richardson, and approving a standardized form.
Weller said on January 3rd, “someone deleted the requirement that our landlord didn’t complete.”
Thomas Conroy said he submitted his illegal rent raise complaint last May.
“You’ve done nothing. We’ve identified a whole bunch of Jersey City buildings where the building ordinance hasn’t been followed correctly. We’ll remember your collusion with large landlords. There’s never been a filing, so there’s never been an exemption.”
“I am here in solidarity with the Portside tenants. It seems as though there are rent control laws in place that are flouted,” Jake Ephros, of the North Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, noted.
Additionally, Alexandra Kaam noted former Rent Control Director Dinah Hendon gave them an overly lengthy explanation that ignored the issue and touted their form as well as an alternative.
“Dinah Hendon tried to deceive us. Mayor Fulop, you know full well the onus is on our landlord. So where are you? Where is your outrage? Your complicit silence has been noted and will not be forgotten.”
To that end, Suzanne DeFelice said Richardson said people should care more about the afterlife than where they live now.
“Two weeks ago, the city council said they will do what they can. Director Richardson … has shown he answers to someone who won’t let him do the right thing,” she exclaimed, also demanding to know when Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore would help their efforts.
Mark Boyles said Hendon said the rent exemption was allegedly filed but subsequently lost.
“The assumption that a document may have been sent is not affirmative evidence … I expect Director Richardson to follow the law and issue the correct determination,” he said.
“Portside Towers has been our home for 15 years. No filing, no exemption,” Jessica Rasulo said.
She then criticized Richardson for giving them a very short deadline to file an amended version of their complaint. After a mere three hours, Richardson dismissed it.
“Nobody is above the law, except in Jersey City?“Is this the New Jersey we should expect under his leadership?” Rasulo said about Mayor Steven Fulop’s expected run for governor in 2025.
Ron Bautista, who is challenging Romano in the June 6th primary and has previously come out in support of the Portside tenants, called for a public meeting between the council, Portside residents, and Richardson.
“This city council does take your concerns seriously. It’s a process. We’re going to work together on this as a city council to pass a comprehensive package,” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh explained.
He said one of their proposals is a public database of building exempt from rent control and buildings subject to rent control.
Saleh also said they’re also examining freezing rent and making it illegal if a landlord attempts to increase it. The dispute would then be submitted to the landlord tenant office for review.
He noted that currently, they’re supposed to pay a rental increase and potentially get a rebate later.
“That’s cold comfort to people. The other idea is to tighten penalties and fines for submitting false information to that office,” the Heights councilman noted, as well as that they want to impose a five percent inflation rental increase cap.
He continued that state approval is also going to be needed, citing the possibility of removing a 30-year rent control exemption.
“We are ready. We’re going to be the hammer they’re going to be the nail,” Saleh said about landlords abusing the system.
“These are just proposals. There has to be a discussion. It will be a process. Some of it is the state too. We cannot override the state. You should look at your state officials. They need to be a part of this too,” added Council President Joyce Watterman.
As for DeGise, her hit-and-run case finally saw a conclusion on Tuesday, with a judge issuing a one-year driver’s license suspension and $5,000 fine.
Despite that, and the fact that she apologized to Uber Eats bicyclist Andrew Black, at least a handful of speakers weren’t ready to let the situation go.
“I don’t want to be here talking Amy DeGise’s record. You are Jersey City’s George Santos. Everyone other than Solomon and Gilmore are our (Republican House Speaker Kevin) McCarthys now,” exclaimed Noreen Collins.
“If I’m going to pay 30,000 to live on Jersey Ave, I don’t want someone representing me… who I don’t believe has the moral fortitude and grounding of anyone on my block.
She also asserted that DeGise lived in affordable housing while making $200,000 a year, drawing applause from the audience.
Former Ward C council candidate Kevin Bing, who attended the court hearing, also criticized DeGise.
“I appreciate that this week you plead guilty. Saying you’re sorry doesn’t explain your disrespect for human life and the hit-and-run,” he said, speculating that she was sobering up and conferring with political cronies in the six hours before turning herself in.
“You need to leave your job and resign now,” Bing declared.
He also cited DeGise’s residency, along with an incident where she tried to use her political influence to stop her car from being towed in Hoboken, as well as the fact that Fulop is doing himself a disservice in the primary by not calling for DeGise to resign – noting that this ordeal will be an easy campaign commercial for his opponents.
“Mayor Fulop, it’s time for you call on Amy DeGise to resign,” Bing stated.
Another resident, Wrion Bowling, was also not impressed over the fact that DeGise still hasn’t offered an explanation for what happened and criticized her prior running mates on the council for not asking for her resignation (which Solomon and Gilmore have done).
Arguably one of the most unexpected speakers of the evening was Star-Ledger political columnist Tom Moran. He said he decided to approach the podium “out of desperation” to get answers.
“We were told after the hit and run crash by Councilwoman DeGise that she couldn’t talk and others weren’t electing to talk because the legal proceeding was underway. That’s done now, my question is why did you leave? Did the police ask you about that? ‘Why did you leave?’ Why did you wait six hours to report it to the police? Did the police ask that?” he questioned.
He further stated he thought it was reasonable to suspect drugs and/or alcohol could have been involved given the time between the crash and when she reported it, even though DeGise never faced any sort of driving under the influence charges.
He also asked if anyone on the council besides Solomon and Gilmore would call for her to resign, an inquiry that no one answered when the meeting concluded around 8:30 p.m.