In an editorial, Hoboken 3rd Ward council candidate Ed Reep gives his take on why the city council needs to take immediate action related to their “rent crisis.”
The time has come for the Hoboken City Council to further intervene in the rental housing market in the city via its power to create legislation. The city is sadly experiencing a major rent crisis.
You see, free markets are great… when they are sufficiently competitive in nature, when they are actually “free.”
If a market has anti-competitive forces at play, such as very high barriers for new entrants on the supply side or very high barriers for customers to switch on the demand side, we shouldn’t call this a “free market” but something more along the lines of a “monopoly” (also the name of the most famous board game of all time, set right here in New Jersey!).
No matter how much housing is de-regulated in a city like Hoboken, NJ, there will always be a “shortage” of units… barring a decision to turn the entire square mile (which already contains the 4th most densely-populated city in America) into a dystopian mega tower.
There is currently a widespread rent crisis in Hoboken, stemming from anti-competitive forces at play in our local and state rental housing market that have reached a critical point.
It has already impacted dozens if not hundreds (or more?) of our neighbors, especially in the city’s 3rd Ward where I am running for City Council this November.
Here’s a summary of what’s going on as far as this rent crisis:
- Hoboken has laws in place to protect all renters in buildings subject to municipal rent control from excessive rent increases while also allowing landlords to fairly pass on costs like water and taxes as needed. These laws need further refinement to make them more sustainable for all parties involved and to protect vulnerable folks in our city living in rent-controlled housing, a crisis too in its own right, but they are not the source of the immediate widespread rent crisis.
- The immediate widespread rent crisis relates to newer buildings constructed in the last 30 years, which according to the state cannot be subject to local rent control laws until 30 years pass (if they file the right paperwork and go through the right process).
- These non-rent-controlled buildings, sometimes referred to as “luxury buildings” even though they frequently house middle-class people and aren’t necessarily all that nice, have in recent months been charging excessively high increases to tenants who want to renew their leases, at times raising rents in the 25% range with some folks seeing rents over 2 year periods ascend from the $3,000 to $4,000 range to the $5,000 to $6,000 range. So many people I speak to have the same story of massive unbearable rent increases that threaten to traumatically disrupt their lives!
- In spite of these buildings not being under local rent-control law, they are still subject to New Jersey’s state provision that no rent hike can be “unconscionable”, which is a vague term that clearly has failed to provide any kind of meaningful deterrent effect to property management companies that want to raise rents in a way that “shocks my conscience” and the conscience of so many others. This is a rent crisis, this string of life-destroying rent increases in non-rent-controlled buildings, a crisis especially affecting Hoboken’s 3rd Ward with many high-population buildings of this sort owned by big property management companies.
Speaking about this rent crisis on a personal level, I can tell you that when I was on the streets of Hoboken’s 3rd Ward speaking to voters, I heard so many heartbreaking stories. One man told me all his child’s friends in school were moving away due to their parents being unable to afford the rent hikes.
I’ve also heard stories about these rent increases putting folks in tough situations affecting their careers and marriages too. So many folks I met in the 3rd Ward already had been displaced from town too, either telling me they were moving away before the election or planning to move away.
Unlike some in city government, I won’t demonize the property management companies assigning these rent hikes and call them “unscrupulous” or motivated by “greed”, even though I think the rent hikes themselves are “unconscionable” and upsetting.
I think the property management companies and the decent people who work for them are simply doing what they can to maximize profit in an unstable inflationary economy, especially given that they operate from a pseudo-monopolistic market position in an unclear regulatory environment that has vague poorly-enforced rules around rent hike limits.
The folks assigning the rent hikes are not bad people… they are equal stakeholders in this situation who need a straightforward path to comply with the law.
Though I may disagree with their overly-divisive language on this issue, the City of Hoboken and its Tenant Advocate are admirably trying to tackle this rent crisis, supporting a lawsuit that maybe could possibly lead to some legal precedent that better clarifies rent hike limits… but I think they are not going far enough actually.
They need to help the totality of renters experiencing this rent crisis right now and also make sure these renters will still be okay even if the lawsuit does not have the ideal outcome.
The way to best stop this rent crisis in Hoboken is to act at the level of local ordinance, actually legislate from the City Council level to provide regulatory clarity on what a disallowed “unconscionable” rent increase means to the extent we are allowed to under New Jersey state law (while also being fair to all sides).
We have Newark, NJ’s recent local ordinance on this very topic as a starting template we can use for constructing our own ordinance, an example we can learn from to make sure our law is as reasonable and win-win as possible.
That law in its original form before modifications included a percentage cap on unconscionable rent hikes at 5%, and though that percentage is probably too low (10% is more reasonable?) and there are some questions around whether an explicit rent increase cap like that can actually be implemented locally, it is a guidepost.
The goal in passing this kind of law ideally is to provide a scenario where renters can rest assured that they will not be traumatically priced out of the city while also providing property management companies (and small landlords too) a more stable and clearer regulatory environment in which they can plan their costs and investments accordingly for the long-term.
Broad rent hike caps are also something we may want to explore for redevelopment agreements as well if we can, not just allocations of official affordable housing units to a select few.
As a candidate for City Council, I am not motivated by a desire for a career in politics (the opposite actually… this is stressful extra work on top of my day job!).
And I’m only a little bit motivated by general personal ambition or a desire to have influence, being perfectly honest.
I am primarily motivated by a desire to solve issues affecting my community that I want handled in the best way possible so people are less miserable and stressed out in their daily lives, so they can live freely and happily.
If this rent crisis can be solved with no credit to me or my campaign whatsoever, with immediate action by our current City Council incumbents, all the better. God bless.
Hoboken 3rd Ward City Council Candidate 2023