Fair Share Housing Center Sues to Overturn Deeply Flawed Jersey City Affordable Housing Ordinance Following Public Outcry

Fair Share Housing Center has asked a state court judge to throw out a deeply flawed affordable housing ordinance recently adopted by Jersey City. The ordinance would provide lucrative giveaways to politically connected developers without meaningfully addressing the city’s growing housing affordability crisis.

Ordinance No. 20-089, which was vociferously and unanimously opposed by dozens of community advocates in more than four hours of public testimony at a City Council meeting in late October, would unlawfully allow developers to buy their way out of new affordable housing obligations. It would also permit the City Council to waive the affordable housing requirements for favored developers at any time and for any reason whatsoever.

“Jersey City desperately needs an effective affordable housing requirement that protects Jersey City residents from displacement due to gentrification. This sham ordinance fails to address Jersey City’s growing affordable housing crisis and gives a pass to politically connected developers, giving them the option of trading away their affordable housing obligations for undefined contributions,” Fair Share Housing Center Executive Director Adam Gordon said.

“State law prohibits this type of quid pro quo arrangement, which invites corruption and shortchanges the working families of Jersey City who are being squeezed by skyrocketing housing costs. Because Mayor Steve Fulop and City Council ignored the unanimous voices of more than 60 community advocates who testified in opposition and passed an illegal ordinance, we are forced to turn to the courts for relief,” Gordon added.

Fair Share Housing Center’s lawsuit, which was filed Monday evening, asks the Hudson County Superior Court judge to strike down the ordinance because it violates state law by allowing developers to buy their way out of affordable housing requirements by providing nebulous “community benefits.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a landmark case, ruled that “so-called voluntary contributions are not much different than a pay-to-play system, where developers are rewarded for their ‘philanthropic’ gifts. Allowing such a scheme not only impacts the developers willing to pay, but threatens the livelihood of those unable or unwilling to submit to the illicit exaction toll.”

The suit also highlights that the City Council failed to refer the proposed ordinance to the Jersey City Planning Commission before approving it — a step state law requires prior to adoption to ensure the ordinance complies with the city’s master plan and which other cities across New Jersey have routinely taken when adopting their own inclusionary zoning ordinances.

Instead of following the statutorily mandated process, the City Council rushed to pass Jersey City’s deeply flawed affordable housing ordinance over widespread public opposition even as the city faces an unprecedented crisis that threatens to price out working families from New Jersey’s second-biggest city.
Rents in Jersey City skyrocketed by nearly 15 percent in the five years beginning in 2013 and ending in 2018, according to Census data.

And more than 40 percent of Jersey City homeowners are cost burdened, a federal measure that indicates that families have to choose between paying for housing and other essentials like medication and groceries.

Mayor Fulop and the City Council’s dismissive attitude toward affordable housing stands in stark contrast with the approach of other elected officials in cities across New Jersey.

In recent years, elected officials in Newark, Asbury Park and nearby Hoboken have adopted fair housing ordinances that ensure working class residents have the opportunity to share in the benefits of rapid development. In each case, policymakers worked in concert with local housing advocates and civil rights groups to ensure the legislation would be effective.

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