Superior Court Strikes Down Jersey City’s Fake Affordable Housing Ordinance, Holds That City’s Officials Cannot Trade Away Affordable Homes in Backroom Deals

In a major victory for affordable housing in fast-gentrifying Hudson County, a state judge has struck down a deeply flawed affordable housing ordinance adopted last year by Jersey City, ruling that the city could not trade away homes promised for working families in exchange for so-called “community benefits,” such as swimming pools and parking garages, as part of backroom deals with developers.

Hudson County Presiding Judge Joseph A. Turula also ruled that Jersey City officials had violated the state’s Municipal Land Use Law when they rushed to adopt the deeply flawed ordinance over widespread public opposition without first referring it to the city’s Planning Board for review.

At the meeting adopting the ordinance in October 2020, dozens of Jersey City residents, civil rights groups, and community groups (including representatives of Solidarity Jersey City, Morris Canal Community Development Corporation, the Jersey City NAACP, and the Hudson County Progressive Alliance) spoke for over four hours, condemning the proposed ordinance and asking the City’s elected officials to work to produce a serious ordinance that would actually provide meaningful opportunities for affordable housing. The requests were ignored as the City Council adopted the ordinance in a 7-2 vote.

The ordinance, which has now been invalidated, completely failed to address Jersey City’s growing affordable housing crisis. It created carve-outs that would have allowed the city to waive the requirements for any developer at any time, for any reason.

In addition, the ordinance required that 5 percent of new residential developments be designated for working families — a pitiful requirement after considering that the state standard is a 20 percent requirement.

The other 15 percent seemingly “required” affordable housing could be traded away by the city’s officials in negotiations with developers, including for so-called “community benefits” and payments that were as low as $25,000 per affordable home lost.

Adam Gordon, Fair Share Housing Center’s Executive Director, stated:

We are pleased that Judge Turula granted Fair Share Housing Center’s summary judgment motion and invalidated Jersey City’s fake affordable housing ordinance.

The decision should send a firm message to the city’s elected officials and other municipalities across New Jersey that affordable homes are not a chit to be traded away as part of backroom deals that do not benefit working families.

We urge Mayor Fulop and the City Council to step up and work with Fair Share Housing Center as well as community and civil rights groups in Jersey City to introduce a serious inclusionary ordinance that will ensure that there are meaningful opportunities for affordable housing in new residential development.

A comprehensive housing policy that assures equitable, inclusionary development and secures affordable homes for Jersey City’s working families of color is vital to protecting the many families that have been squeezed by rapidly rising rents and home prices — especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Renée Steinhagen, New Jersey Appleseed’s Executive Director, which participated as an amicus in the case and filed briefs, stated:

New Jersey Appleseed was pleased to support Fair Share Housing Center’s challenge to the faux inclusionary zoning ordinance that codified a politically saturated (re)development process that is currently prevalent in Jersey City.

It is a sham process that over time has replaced real public participation in the planning process as well as clear, predictable zoning rules. Instead, the City’s officials have preferred to exclude the community and hammer out backroom deals, often at the expense of working families in need of affordable housing.

Now, the court has declared the City’s shameful attempt to legalize this inherently unfair, irrational development process void as a matter of law. An affordable housing ordinance should not be used as leverage to secure so-called “community benefits” that do not benefit low- and moderate-income families.

New Jersey Appleseed hopes the City will work with Fair Share Housing Center and NJA to adopt an inclusionary housing ordinance that actually mandates the creation of affordable housing.

Frank Argote-Freyre, Chairman the Latino Action Network Housing Committee, said:

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.

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 Fulop and the Jersey 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.

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.

To do otherwise, risks turning the city into an exclusive enclave of the rich and powerful.

Fair Share Housing Center was represented in the case by staff attorney Bassam Gergi, who filed the initial complaint and litigated it through the successful decision on summary judgement.

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