|Long-time residents of Jersey City are being pushed out|
By Richard Smith and Christian Estevez
With skyrocketing rents outpacing what most ordinary people can afford, Jersey City should be coming to terms with the fact that its residents are being priced out and forced out.
Developers who are making unfathomable amounts of money building homes for wealthy new residents have no incentive to solve this problem. It is time for Mayor Steven Fulop and the City Council to adopt an effective policy that requires developers to make at least 20 percent of new homes affordable as a way to curb the gentrification that is emptying Jersey City of longtime residents. In the case of city-owned land, or when public subsidies are used, the percent should go above 20 percent.
For decades, our state’s urban cores suffered from disinvestment, while wealthy suburban communities boomed. This disparity, driven by many towns’ exclusionary zoning laws, has helped make New Jersey one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the country.
As New Jersey’s urban communities revitalize, working families and communities of color in places like Jersey City are at the losing end of a real estate market that pursues profits over fairness and high rents over fair rents.
After living in Jersey City through challenging decades of disinvestment, lower-income African American and Latino families are being particularly threatened with displacement as investment floods in.
While we welcome additional investment in New Jersey’s cities, it must not come at the cost of displacement and homelessness. Our elected officials have an obligation to prevent the negative impacts that rapid gentrification has on our state’s most vulnerable communities.
Jersey City’s elected leaders must act – or they risk turning the city into an exclusive enclave of the rich and powerful.
It is irresponsible that Jersey City has added thousands of new apartments in recent years, rewarding developers with lucrative density increases, without putting inclusionary zoning requirements in place to protect lower-income families – as permitted under state law.
Left to their own devices, powerful developers will build housing for people earning over $100,000 annually and call these units “affordable.”
But that is not where the greatest need is.
Jersey City must target new affordable housing requirements to protect families earning as little as $20,000 to $45,000 per year – where the need is greatest.
And officials must prevent new requirements from being undermined by loopholes that would allow developers to wriggle out of their affordable housing requirements.
An effective fair housing policy must focus on housing – not be subverted as a tool to meet other goals while allowing gentrification to take over the city.
Mayor Fulop’s press releases and social media posts in recent years have claimed that his administration is going to address this issue. Most recently, the mayor wrote on social media last November that “Jersey City will be enacting an inclusionary zoning ordinance like many other major cities. … It is very close to becoming reality and will be a huge benefit to keeping Jersey City a special mixed-income community.”
But to date, there has been no real progress. While the mayor’s promises go unmet, developers are making Jersey City a “special” community for New York transplants who think nothing of paying $1 million for a condo – at the expense of the city’s African-American and Latino residents.
Indeed, while Jersey City stands still, other nearby cities have put in place protections for longtime residents and adopted equitable housing policies, including Hoboken, Newark and Union City. These ordinances require homes to be affordable at the lowest possible ranges.
Hoboken is even in the process of strengthening its affordable housing ordinance.
These gentrifying communities have benefited from the leadership of mayors like Dawn Zimmer, Ravinder Bhalla, Ras Baraka, and Brian Stack. Yet in the face of incredible progress, Jersey City, which has the greatest potential and the highest need, lags behind.
The time for Jersey City to adopt an effective housing policy has arrived.
We urge Mayor Fulop and the City Council to do what should have been done long ago: Adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance that ensures that all residents of Jersey
City benefit from the private market interest in the city. The ordinance should require all developments to have a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing. No buyouts, no loopholes, and no scams.
We need legislation that forces developers to address the negative consequences of gentrification. And we need it now.
Christian Estevez is president of the Latino Action Network and Richard Smith is president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.