The Jersey City Council passed two amended ordinances for right to counsel on first reading at last night’s meeting, which saw a few dozen residents speak in favor of the proposal.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“I’m going to abstain on 3.1 and 3.2 (the RTC and developer fee ordinances) until the changes on one to four family houses is put into effect,” explained Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano said, who feels they should be excluded.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon thanked his colleagues for working together to develop an expansive and more comprehensive vision for RTC.
“We want to work with the Affordable Housing Trust committee to develop the spending plan to ensure that dollars go to emergency rental assistance and rehabilitation of different properties for landlords with the condition that they’re renting to low- and moderate-income tenants,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon explained.
“ … This legislation will be critical to ensuring Jersey City’s tenants remain housed—while requiring the richest developers pay their fair share in development fees, which would fund Right-to-Counsel while replenishing our Affordable Housing Trust. I want to thank every City Council member who voted to advance the legislation and Mayor Fulop for his support,” he added in a statement issued after the vote.
The ordinances both passed 8-0(1), with Boggiano abstaining on each as he said he would.
While the votes were not close, many still urged the council to support the local legislation on second reading at the June 14th council meeting.
“Our city is becoming less and less friendly to folks who are low and middle income. Housing is a human right. Please do not be swayed by people who want to make a profit. I urge you to pass the strongest right to counsel law in the nation. This is the most expensive city in the nation,” said Jessica Taube.
“Jersey City is facing an eviction crisis. Rents are rising faster than incomes. Tenants deserve to know their rights and defend them. Developers have poured money into Jersey City. But not enough new units are affordable. More and more residents are being displaced. It’s time for developers to give back to the city,” Ralph Betancourt stated.
Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement Executive Director Pamela Johnson said Black and brown families have been illegally displaced and it’s long past time to do the right thing.
“We have a rent crisis in Jersey City. I personally know families are … deeply impacted. Many have relocated. Leaving a place you love is a hard decision. It’s about leveling the field,” she argued.
“Adequate representation will keep people in their homes. Many landlords have the financial resources to defend their rights. The average renter doesn’t. A right to counsel program is crucial for Jersey City to remain affordable,” Nicole Waknine declared.
Approximately two dozen speakers in total spoke in a similar vein, indicating that it’s time for the city to stop incentivizing landlords and start helping tenants.
“Landlords have no incentive to follow the law. They basically have a blank check to break the law. In New York City they passed an ordinance like this and it dramatically reduced the filings,” Wrion Bowling stated.
“There’s a squeeze on tenants. Even with the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, the affordable housing overlay, thousands of market rate units will be built. Tenants in those units need protection too,” former Ward B council candidate Joel Brooks said.
Brooks noted that prominent developers like Mack Cali, Ironstate, and LeFrak have fueled gentrification, pointing out that Richard LeFrak is retiring with a net work of $3.4 billion.
“We stand firmly with Jersey City residents … in their demand for housing justice. We support the development impact fees, which will transform the state of affordable housing in the city,” Antoinette Miles, of the New Jersey Working Families Party, stated.
“For far too long, developers and landlords have had the system tilted in their favor. The right to counsel is essential.”
RTC Campaign Media and Communications Chair for the Hudson County Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Julia Tache thanked the council for approving the ordinances on first reading and hoped for a similar result next month.
“Developers and real estate lobbyists are at the forefront of stopping policies that would benefit tenants’ lives. Jersey City is in a housing crisis, and time is of the essence. Landlords seem to have no problem breaking the law.”
Tache noted many tenants are left defenseless when they are forced out by police.
“While luxury towers keep going up, social services … are dwindling. Pass right to counsel,” she added.
“Eviction is both a result of poverty and a cause of poverty. We should do everything we can to prevent this. It can take years for a family that has become homeless to stabilize,” Sue Byrne said.
“I’m really excited our city council is closer to passing some of the expansive legal protection for tenants,” DSA and RTC organizer Jake Ephros said, who also highlighted their protest on Monday during the council’s caucus.
Additionally, Sofia Cutler asserted people’s records are being tarnished by evictions.
“It’s really the politically expedient thing to do since this a widely felt issue here in Jersey City. It’s felt across the working class. Renters and homeowners think their city cares more about developers.”
The amendments include a provision that allows a Tenants Advisory Board to approve educational and and enforcement programs, opens the possibility for a universal program pending new funding sources, allowing the director to provide mediation services, allowing paralegals and law students the ability to be hired via requests for proposals, and allowing the council to approve the amount of contracted lawyers and in-house staff annually.
According to the first ordinance, the city’s new RTC office is not expected to open prior to January 1st, 2026, though new language was added for the possibility to get the program rolling earlier.