Portside Towers residents again dominated the public portion of the Jersey City Council meeting, reiterating calls for the city to enforce rent control and asking Mayor Steven Fulop to take a stance.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“There’s a need for more nonprofit apartment units. It’s not enough with rent control. It’s not enough with representation for tenants. I worry about the silence of the mayor for months,” began 5th District Hudson County Commissioner candidate Ron Bautista.
He praised Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore for attending the Tenant Town Hall organized by some of the residents on Tuesday.
“I know it’s a tough situation for the council. I do hope we get some updates on legislation. How much longer can they hold those 30 percent [rent] raises?” Bautista asked.
Portside Towers East Tenant Association President Kevin Weller said three simple concepts have not been adhered to: trust, transparency, and process.
[Former Landlord-Tenant Office Director] Dinah Hendon … knew our buildings were subject to rent control. Mayor Fulop is the reason we find ourselves in this position,” he said, indicating that tonight’s speeches should be viewed as a “warning shot.”
Weller also said they plan to confront Fulop frequently on this issue and have started a GoFundMe page to raise money to fight their landlord, Equity Residential, in court. As of 2 p.m. today, they have raised $18,922 towards their $100,000 goal.
“My neighbors and I have been here for the last eight-plus meetings. I’ve now missed eight bedtimes and eight dinners with my children,” Jessica Rasulo said.
“Mayor Fulop, where are you? Where is your action … or even your acknowledgment? Your constituents are suffering. Director [Shyrone] Richardson: where is your response to the petition?”
“Do not waste our taxpayers’ money on litigation. Let’s move it along. We vote. These seniors will not vote for candidates who support developers and landlords who will raise their rent,” stated Marlene Franklin, who also called for an open public meeting on this topic.
Jessica Brann said that last year, a Pro Publica investigative report found that the company Real Page feeds an algorithm used by real estate companies, including Equity, which likely leads to inflated rent and breaks anti-trust laws.
“Aspiring Governor Fulop … Don’t be on the wrong side of the law here. Embrace the right to counsel, so everyone has access to affordable housing,” she added.
“Where is our ever-smiling mayor? Mayor Fulop, I invite you to share your face here at the next meeting. Skip one ribbon cutting,” Sonja Kirschner exclaimed.
Barbara Goldberg also said that Fulop should have time for a special meeting “for the people who voted for you.”
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, who has said he’s working on a rent control ordinance, noted that noted there are four different types of rent leveling board cases they want new forms for, including their issue.
Gary Murphy, a former chair of the rent leveling board, was another resident who spoke in favor of the Portside tenant.
“Initially, we were going to do a complete overhaul. We’re going to go with a smaller package and continue to adapt Solomon’s recommendations, including the form here … We’re trying to make forms for all those cases. We are working on it,” Saleh stated.
He further stated that Richardson’s office had recommendations to help tenants they also want to incorporate into the new ordinance.
Eventually, Corporation Counsel Peter Baker said they need a first reading on an ordinance to discuss the issue.
“If you want to solicit the public for input, you are welcome to do so. There’s not really an item to be put on the agenda. We’ll get the finished draft,” he added.
“Can we agree to have a meeting once we have the first meeting? Within the next two weeks to one month. Is that fair?” Saleh asked.
He noted some in the crowd assembled behind the speaker’s podium nodded and gave a thumbs up, agreeing to help on an expanded form. Saleh then praised the idea of a simple form.
“There is no ill intent behind what’s happening. We’re trying to be cautious … on how it’s going to impact people. It’s not just the form,” he added to applause.
Mel Wilson expressed frustration that Fulop declined to comment on their situation yesterday, telling HCV that “it would be highly inappropriate for me to weigh in on an issue that is before a quasi-judicial process.”
“We’ve got mold rodents, elevators that don’t work, fire alarms that don’t work,” she said, citing that there is a laundry list of other problems.
Similarly, Dina Bologa questioned what “quasi” meant in this instance.
“I would like to invite Mayor Fulop to the next meeting to speak with us. You are the landlord’s mayor,” Suzanne DeFelice added.
Furthermore, Mark Boyles demanded the council adopt a simple form just for their case first.
“If that’s what the group wants, we’ll explore that. I’ll run it with the law department tomorrow,” Saleh said, also indicating that they are creating a new database on housing issues in response to their demand. He declined to put a timeframe on it.
“It’s going to take a few months. I don’t want to give you a timeline,” he said.
Saleh said several council members had been working on the larger package but they could focus on a narrow ordinance that would be passed faster.
“Bringing that could take a little longer than you guys want. They did a major, major uplift to Chapter 260,” the Heights councilman said.