Low-income Jersey City tenants make demands in wake of new Holland Gardens plans

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For years, tenants of the Holland Gardens public housing complex in Jersey City, located just north of the Holland Tunnel entrance, have said dilapidated conditions were common place: work orders being ignored, holes left in ceilings and mold was left to fester, residents alleged last night.

Residents of the Holland Gardens public housing complex attend a Jersey City Housing Authority meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019.

By Corey McDonald/Hudson County View

“Now, all of a sudden, we are the center of attention, because the Jersey City Housing Authority wants to redevelop our site into a high rise,” the Holland Gardens Tenant’s Organization said in a letter delivered to the JCHA on Wednesday.

“And you are using the conditions you have ignored (both in the past and in recent months) as an excuse to move quickly.”

As a plan moves forward to redevelop the housing complex, tenants are becoming increasingly uneasy of the prospect of being pushed out of the neighborhood – even temporarily – that some have called home for decades.

They are demanding that certain rights are given to them, such as being allowed to remain in the location while construction is underway.

“[Developers] started to build around us when we were living across the street from empty warehouses and empty lots. Now we’re in an area that’s more favorable… and we fear we will ultimately be pushed out,” said Danielle Walker, a resident of the complex said after  last night’s meeting of the Jersey City Housing Authority.

“We are all aware of the expedited gentrification process that is happening in Jersey City. We’ve seen other sites become unfamiliar to residents who had generations of families there.”

More than two dozen residents, accompanied by officials with Jersey City Together, a nonpartisan, community rights organization, attended the meeting to voice their concerns and also gave their specific demands in a letter distributed to JCHA commissioners.

Residents have expressed anxiety over a plan to turn the public housing complex into a mix-income development since it was first proposed.

The project would create 500 new units, encompassing both market-rate and low-income units. Current tenants would be relocated while construction is underway. For the time being, more than 350 people live in 192 units, officials said.

The city has held a number of meetings with residents of the complex and have insisted that those residents would be guaranteed a unit upon the project’s completion.

“That is a commitment we feel very strongly about,” JCHA Executive Director Vivian Brady-Phillips said, adding that they “understand that for many people that have lived at Holland Gardens for decades, the idea of revitalization is also very scary.”

Residents feelings of unease and unrest are clear in the letter, where tenants demanded the JCHA provide more options so that residents do not have to be relocated and would have places to stay locally while improvements are made.

“There have to be more options than just a high rise that forces all tenants out of the neighborhood at once,” New Jersey Together tweeted.

Residents are also demanding a strengthened “right to return” legal agreement for residents who are willing to be temporarily relocated.

Also of note, residents want longstanding issues with living conditions addressed immediately.

“We are willing to engage in meaningful discussions with you moving forward, but there is real trust that must be built.”

An official report of the plan says a request for proposals would be submitted sometime in the fall or winter, while any resident relocation would occur sometime between fall 2021 and winter 2022.

Raj Mukherji, the assemblyman for the 33rd Legislative District as well as the chair of the JCHA board, said there has been a “meaningful” process through which the housing authority “has elicited response from the community, with respect to that site,” and that “tenant input has been a high priority.”

“We want affordable housing units to be replaced by affordable housing units,” he said during the meeting, later stating that the JCHA does not have the funds necessary to make the appropriate repairs that have been requested.

“All of you at Holland Gardens deserve better. It’s in a state of disrepair and we don’t have the funds to do what needs to be done to give residents the quality of life they deserve,” he said.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing right by our tenants, and right now we’re not doing right by our tenants … but we’re doing the best we can.”

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that existing residents will have top priority for the renovated units and that previous public sessions have made this clear.

“The priority for this site has been to upgrade the units, increase affordable housing, and to give the right to return to all existing residents. This has been clear from the beginning as the City’s priority and has been communicated by the JCHA during meetings with members of the tenants’ organization as well as during 7 public meetings and meetings that included JC Together,” she said.

“The JCHA has made transparency a priority around this project, but unfortunately there will always be some people that spread misinformation. All of the information – the timeline, videos of every meeting, documentation, and the entire visioning plan – is on a website that was set up specifically for this project to ensure transparency and to continuously inform and update residents HollandGardenVision.org.”

 

Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_