The Jersey City Council caucus focused their attention on a new affordable housing compliance ordinance at yesterday’s caucus meeting, which will be now be up for first reading tomorrow.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“It is an entire re-write,” Affordable Housing Division Director Gigi Gazon began.
She explained it was necessary to bring all affordable housing units created in the city by different developers under the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO) standard that went into effect in January.
It was also deemed necessary to revise the city’s affordable housing ordinance to bring it into line with New Jersey’s Uniform Housing Affordability Controls (UHAC) standards.
“This will create a uniform and consistent affordable housing monitoring and compliance program. It’s very prescriptive in terms of the breakdown of units between low and low-to-moderate,” she told the council.
“We can provide housing for families of different sizes because thee’s a requirement, a very prescriptive requirement for the size of the units.”
The ordinance aims to assure that very low-, low-, and moderate-income are created with controls on affordability over time and would apply to all inclusionary developments and all 100 percent affordable developments.
Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro noted during the IZO debate he had offered a number of amendments that were rejected by the council in October.
“Were many of those changes adopted that I offered as amendments at that time?” he asked.
It was noted the ordinance also provides for affordability controls for no less than 30 years, which Lavarro noted he had previously sought.
Additionally, affordable housing units will be built at the same time as other units and not left for last or forgotten. The ordinance also requires developers to properly advertise to qualified households in the region.
Lavarro also recommended amending the language to make it slightly stronger in enforcement against developers that don’t correct violations.
Gazon explained that there are enforcement mechanisms the city can use to punish developers such as daily fining for specific infractions like not housing income-eligible tenants, fraudulent paperwork.
“There’s quite a few options written into this ordinance that are available for this division to use as an enforcement mechanism before we even have to go into default and a court of law,” she responded.
Lavarro noted the specific language uses the term “may” to describe actions that could be taken against developers.
“My understanding is ‘may’ is less restrictive and ‘shall’ would provide more restrictions. Is there a reason we wouldn’t just declare them in default?:
Gazon defaulted to the Law Department on the specific nature of the language, however, “We don’t want unintended consequences such as displacement of persons through no fault of their own,” she added.
“We’re trying to hold developers accountable, make sure they’re administering their units accordingly and as prescriptively as we say but I think the last thing we want to do is force the city to get into a situation where someone ends up losing their housing. I’ve seen that kind of thing go down.”
Council-at-Large Daniel Rivera, who served as council president since Joyce Watterman was absent, followed up by asking the Law Department and Gazon to work with Lavarro on this.
“This is a first reading ordinance. We have a couple weeks to engage in its structure,” he said.
“The annual rent increase is restricted to the Northeast (Consumer Price Index) CPI increase with a max of 9 percent?” Ward E Councilman James Solomon questioned.
Gazon explained that there is an organization that does the calculations and puts out the formula.
“There are several advocacy organizations that are approved by the courts, and other municipalities, use a chart,” Gazon said.
She added that the rent increase formula is designed by the Affordable Housing Professionals of New Jersey (AHPNJ).
“Rent is not going to up an annual basis more than the (Consumer Price Index) CPI annual increase?” Solomon continued.
It was explained that the increase is designed only to meet increases designed by CPI.
“One of the challenges we’ve had with the affordable housing units built in the last couple of years is AMI (Area Median Income) will go up 10 percent for the city one year,” stated Solomon.
“So then the landlord will come and raise the rent 10 percent but then you know the tenant can’t pay for the 10 percent increase. So it defeats the purpose of creating the affordable units and giving people stability.”
Ultimately, Solomon was assured that rent increases would only be by a couple of percentage points under the new affordable housing ordinance.
Additionally, nothing was mentioned about the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) ordinance, which was expected to be on Wednesday’s agenda after being withdrawn in February.