Jersey City Council OKs first reading of rent control measure put forth by administration

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The Jersey City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would appear to bolster rent control efforts in the city, though some elected officials said they were caught off guard by the administrative add-on.

By Corey McDonald/ Hudson County View

The ordinance’s introduction Wednesday night was “unexpected,” Council President Rolando Lavarro said, adding that he voted yes “for introduction’s sake,” however it will likely be a little while before the second reading.

“The best thing the city council can do is to refer this to the city council rent control committee for review and make recommendations as part of a comprehensive reform of the entire rent control program,” he told HCV.

The ordinance would make a single amendment to the city’s current rent control policy.

As it stands now, Jersey City’s rent control ordinance caps annual rent increases using a formula calculated with inflation in mind, with the aim of limiting increases to 4 percent.

The law regulates dwellings built before 1984 with more than four residential units but does have some exemptions, including dwellings with four or less housing spaces and low rent public housing developments, among others.

Wednesday’s ordinance, however, would eliminate an exemption for “newly constructed dwellings with 25 or more dwelling units located within a redevelopment area.”

This was not a product of a committee, formed in May to reconcile two competing city-wide affordable housing plans and implement a single proposal. Council members asked to comment said they needed to review it first.

“Because the committee was formed, we want the committee to look over it first … then I’ll share what I think of it,” Councilwoman-at-large Joyce Watterman who, along with Ward E Councilman James Solomon, co-chairs the rent control committee.

“I’m very supportive of strong rent control policies that protect the interests of tenants. What I would rather do though is consider these comprehensively and not one by one,” Solomon said.

“But with that said, the administration proposed this and I’m happy to review it and try understand their reasons for pushing this forward at this moment,” adding he would take time to “see if it makes sense to move forward on its own, or to pause a bit and consider this stuff more holistically.”

In a statement, city spokeswoman Kim Wallace-Scalcione said “creating and protecting affordable housing is a priority for our administration … while a comprehensive improvement is coming later in the year, we see this as a first step.”

She also called it a “no brainer to protect affordable housing.”

Much of the new development that would theoretically be affected by this are protected by a state law that prohibits rent control on any newly constructed properties for 30 years.

If this ordinance passes on second reading at the next council meeting, for example Urby Tower, would not be affected by this ordinance because of the state law.

However, the bill’s approval would immediately apply to apartment units in an area such as Newport, where LeFrak developed many of the properties and luxury dwellings there more than 30 years ago.

“I think we have to give it some study and understand why they’re proposing it,” Solomon said. “We’re looking at trying to understand the impact: how many apartments and where those apartments are.”

Lavarro added that it “is not clear what the goal” of the ordinance is, and “as with most proposals that come from this administration, the devil is in the details.”

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_

1 COMMENT

  1. What’s better than rent control? A tax on vacant lots and unoccupied buildings. While rent control makes it less attractive to supply accommodation, a vacant-property tax makes it less attractive NOT to!  A vacant-property tax of $X/week makes it $X/week more expensive to fail to get a tenant, and thereby REDUCES, by $X/week, the minimum rent that will persuade the owner to accept a tenant.

    Such a tax, although sometimes called a “vacancy tax”, is not limited to what real-estate agents call “vacancies” — that is, properties available for rent. It also applies to vacant lots and other properties that are not on the rental market, and is designed to push them onto the market and get them tenanted.

    A vacant-property tax is intended to be avoided; if it’s properly designed, nobody actually has to pay it. And the *avoidance* of it would initiate economic activity, which would expand the bases of other taxes, allowing their rates to be reduced, so that the rest of us would pay LESS tax!

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