Jersey City Council OKs 1st reading of inclusionary zoning measure after some public dissent

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The Jersey City Council okayed the 1st reading of an inclusionary zoning measure after some public dissenters indicated they felt the current ordinance was too amicable for developers.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The 20 percent affordable housing would apply to residential developers with projects over 15 residential units that are requesting five or more additional units or an additional 5,000 square feet of residential floor area through a redevelopment plan amendment or a variance to follow the new provisions.

Also per the ordinance, the mandatory affordable housing units will be set aside for households with combined income brackets at 30 percent, 50 percent, and 80 percent of the annual median income (AMI), as defined by Uniform Housing Affordability Controls (UHAC).

Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro, who already spoke out against any possibility for developer buyouts, had mixed feelings on community benefits and wanted to amend the ordinance.

Lavarro wanted to remove the option that constructing water lines, police and fire buildings, and garages could be done in place of providing affordable housing.

However, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said community benefits can be used to address severe infrastructure issues the city has difficulty paying for.

“This is just the beginning. We have to get something on the table. We need to start learning how to collect data,” said Council President Joyce Watterman, the sponsor of the ordinance who introduced it with the support of Mayor Steven Fulop.

Waterman said she believes data was necessary to practice inclusionary zoning where affordable housing is specifically included.

She explained that in 2013 when development was slower, it made sense to give tax abatements to developers to avoid paying certain taxes. This was especially true regarding the redevelopment of Journal Square.

Now she feels with the city building a great deal, the tax abatements are too lax.

Still, Lavarro did not want there to be any exemptions developers might exploit to avoid providing affordable housing. He called the loopholes “gaping.”

Nevertheless, the measure passed with ease on first reading by a tally of 7-2, with Lavarro and Ward E Councilman James Solomon voting no.

Still, members of the public chided the ordinance, asking why the public’s input from inclusionary zoning meetings was not more heavily considered, along with amendments proposed by Lavarro – which included required developments with more than 10 units to set aside 20 percent of the units as affordable with a minimum of 65 years of affordability.

“This law is a joke,” said resident Katia Oltmann.

“You have the power to act do something about it. Use it,” added Elayna Thompson, of Solidarity Jersey City, stated.

Thompson added that people are being priced/forced out of neighborhoods they have lived in for many years when their buildings are sold to developers.

In that vain, Dr. Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein said 40 percent of Jersey City households are cost-burdened, meaning people need to devote too much of their income to rent. She lauded Lavarro’s efforts and said developers need to be reigned in.

“They need to tie their hands,” she also said, later noting that being able to build a police station to avoid affordable housing requirements is “a slap in the face.”

“That thing is a piece of Swiss cheese,” exclaimed Jeanne Daly, a frequent critic of the administration.

From there, Colin DeVries pointed out that approving tax abatements for developers ultimately means less money for the city’s infrastructure and schools.

Arden Donnelly, who also identified as a member Solidarity JC, expressed that inequality has only been getting worse due to COVID-19 and the affordable housing loopholes exasperate the situation.

“Not acting then is negligent,” they exclaimed, noting that there is a stigma around affordable housing where many people have NIMBY attitudes. Those against it often sound a racial dog whistle to alarm people against the inclusion of affordable housing.

Furthermore, resident Dana Patton said the ordinance was rushed, and key pieces were missing. She did not understand the rush to pass the ordinance when it would go into effect until January at the earliest.

“You have a chance here to create a more equitable city for generations to come and I’m begging you to take the opportunity,” she said.

Lavarro vowed to introduce his amendments to strengthen the law and remove loopholes where developers can avoid building affordable housing units prior to the second reading vote.

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