State Senator Brian Stack, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (both D-33), and Hudson County Executive Democratic nominee Craig Guy are among 13 local politicians endorsing the Jersey City right to counsel proposal ahead of tonight’s pivotal city council vote.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Housing is a human right, and every tenant should have access to counsel to remedy the power imbalance with landlords and ensure their rights are protected during eviction proceedings,” Mukherji, also the Democratic nominee for the new 32nd Legislative District and a longtime chair of the Jersey City Housing Authority, said in a statement.
“Establishing Right to Counsel in Jersey City will help us fight homelessness.”
The two related ordinances will be considered on second and final reading at this evening’s council meeting and is already projected to pass with Councilmen Yousef Saleh, James Solomon, Frank “Educational” Gilmore, and Danny Rivera – the legislative sponsors – announcing support from Rivera and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise last week.
“It’s imperative that we continue to address the affordable housing concern and this ordinance is a step in the right direction. I’m anxious to work together with our municipalities in dealing with this problem,” added Guy.
The amendments up for consideration 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, allows the director to provide mediation services, allows paralegals and law students the ability to be hired via requests for proposals, and allows the council to approve the amount of contracted lawyers and in-house staff annually.
Mukherji’s two running mates, LD-32 Democratic state Assembly nominees Jessica Ramirez and John Allen – who all happen to be attorneys – are also in favor of the measure.
“Justice knows no income brackets. Every tenant, regardless of their means, deserves the right to legal counsel for a fair and equal fight,” said Ramirez.
“I strongly support the proposed Right to Counsel program to provide Jersey City with the legal representation they need. It will level the playing field in landlord/tenant disputes preventing unjustified evictions and ensuring fairness. I urge the City Council to adopt it,” added Allen.
Hudson County Commissioner Jerry Walker (D-4), Jersey City Democratic Committee Chair Barbara Stamato, also the Democratic state Assembly nominee in the 31st Legislative District, are also on board, along with the majority of the board of education trustees.
Those trustees, who are all speaking in their personal capacity, are Noemi Velazquez, Younass Barkouch, Afaf Muhammad, Gina Verdibello, Chris Tisdale, and LeKendrick Shaw.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2), who proposed the same concept at the county level, have also previously backed the local legislation, along with a dozen religious leaders and 17 advocacy groups.
“I am grateful to these elected leaders for standing with tenants and supporting Right to Counsel. Jersey City’s most vulnerable tenants deserve a fair day in court – and Jersey City deserves more affordable housing,” added Solomon.
“The RTC bill will accomplish both, with no taxes levied against Jersey City’s working families. Let’s get this bill passed!”
One ordinance will establish a RTC office at City Hall with a number of procedural guidelines in place, while the other would charge development fees to find the office.
Specifically, 20 percent of the money allocated to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund would be used to fund the RTC, with 80 percent earmarked for other miscellaneous affordable housing policies.
According to Solomon, he city would collect about $20 million a year in development revenues, leaving an annual RTC budget of about $4 million annually.
The Jersey City Council will convene this evening at City Hall, 280 Grove St., at 6 p.m. and will also stream live on Microsoft Teams.