Community is something we hold very dear in Jersey City. From neighborhood and block associations to community centers and youth programs to parks and environmental associations, community is what drives Jersey City. It is also one of the most divisive segregators of the city as our community is separated by neighborhoods (even blocks), socio-economically, culturally, and racially. We are separated by privilege and the haves versus the have-nots.
One of the most glaring divisions is the housing market and the availability of housing. Developers are encroaching on all parts of The City with little mind to the current community and infrastructure (or lack thereof) and this can be seen quite plainly as the highrises jut into the sky.
Housing for all levels of the community is very important, but the entire community is not being taken into consideration. This week, both Mayor Fulop and Council Members Joyce E. Watterman and Rolando R. Lavarro Jr. announced low-mid income housing plans. While the plans are similar, there are differences in building requirements for the housing (Fulop says 30 units or more should be required, while the Council Members’ state all), the breakdown in income level housing provided within the 20%, and allowing developers to not build low income housing by fining them per unit (Fulop). Kevin D. Walsh, Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Center and a signee for the Council Members’ Ordinance explains why putting this into law and action it so important, “Developers who receive generous benefits from the city will no longer be able to get away with building only for the wealthy. The law on this is strong and the ordinance can be implemented right away.”
What is left to be seen is what will happen to low to mid-income housing recipients if only 20% of a redevelopment needs to fill this requirement. Mayor Fulop and the Council will need come together with community involvement to solve this. The community will be asking these questions at the Planning Meeting on May 8th, 2019.
Photos provided by Grant Hardeway
To understand the housing situation we reached out to Chris Gadsden, Lincoln High School Principal and former Council Person. Gadsden is extremely knowledgeable on the housing crisis in Jersey City and is involved with the community most affected by these decisions.
Gadsden and I talked about the importance of housing for everyone and what that really means, “We need housing for all levels - low, mid, and working class including the police, firefighters, etc. who serve Jersey City and can’t afford to live here. After a few years, they move out and it becomes a paycheck.” We want a diverse community and a city that serves the entire community. “Jersey City belongs to all of us. The city needs to be more supportive and alleviate the fears of the current residents. The City needs to be inclusive of everyone's needs,” Gadsden continued.
Low and mid-income are not money makers for developers where the bottom line is #1. But Jersey City is not just the community of the wealthy and those who can afford to pay almost NYC rent prices. “Developers need to understand they are still coming into an already established community and should work with that community to fill their needs,” Gadsden shared. This was something mentioned over and over again at the 107 New York Ave proposal community meeting in The Heights earlier this spring. The developers presented a 9-story building to the community, in replacement of the 17-story they presented to the city and both were rejected. Questions like what about low-income housing, community centers, and infrastructure were asked with no response and this is the norm.
Areas with strong associations are lucky, fighting developers to overcoming the challenges and in the end working with them happens more often. In The Heights, many developers go to the neighborhood associations to work with them before even going to the city. This is also due to the nature of the associations and the involvement of the community. However, in many cases, it is a hostile takeover and the developers ask for variances and changes to the laws and have no regard to the current community. “No one is knocking development, but development needs to be inclusive of people who are here in Jersey City. Development should not be a predictive outcome (of filling the development with a set type of resident). It should fill the needs of those who are here,” explained Chris Gadsden.
For those of us who are not in the community housing support, SNAP, WIC, housing blocks, or Section 8, it is hard for us to understand what that life is like. What paycheck to paycheck really means or moving in with a family member due to the necessity to make ends meet (not to save money to be able to buy a place in a year). What we fail to see is how they are affected when housing is moved or taken away and the requirements for housing change.
Gadsden talked about the new homelessness that is occurring, “To make ends meet, we are now seeing 2-3 families living together. They do this so they don’t have to transfer their children to new school districts in the middle of the year when their housing is moved. This affects all aspects of their lives. And no one wants the uncertainty of not having a place, whether homelessness or moving to another town. Hundreds of people have had to move out of Jersey City because of housing changes.”
Pictures by E. Jan Kounitz from "ME-HOOD"
Low-income housing has been phased out before - Montgomery Gardens and Duncan Projects. Although replaced by sustainable mixed-income housing, those that were low incoming were displaced. Mill Creek Gardens, which will be finished in the next few months, is another replacement of low-income to mixed-income, focusing on working families. At the end of the NJ.com article discussing Mill Creek, Lynne Patton, HUD regional administrator for New York and New Jersey seems to explain, “To see the rebirth of the distressed Montgomery Gardens site and its beautiful new construction that will serve as the new home to dozens of low-income Jersey City families is the reason why HUD exists.” We hope it continues serves the low-income population.
We spoke to a member of the community who wants to remain anonymous on the plans that both the City and the greater community have. “You look to elected officials and community members to have a vision. Not sure what City Hall’s vision is and I don’t think the community has one other than being angry at development. This housing unit staying low income was one of the wins for the old, established community and now that’s being taken away. It’s unfair.”
They asked the following questions:
“What happens to the people who already live there? And what are we doing to increase the capacity of the existing overstretched infrastructure? The big solutions we used to have for big problems are just not feasible because of political capitol … yes, it is a funding thing too.”
What can we do to support each other?
Gadsden gave the following advice,
“Folks need to keep pushing the issue. They need to come up with a concrete agenda to present to council members and the planning board. We need to use these as talking points every time.
We have to continue to raise noise of affordability of housing and hold developers conscious of all of Jersey City.”
We have the power to become one neighborhood, one Jersey City. To present a united front with combined expertise, instead of separate units.
We do not know the city’s position on development as it is a case by case basis, since they sometimes uphold the variance and zoning laws and other times don’t. What we do know is that development is coming and how The City and the community are able to work together to make sure that all of Jersey City is represented will be a deciding factor.
Photo provided by BeLaJerseyCity