Proposed law in Jersey City would change how affordable housing is built

Proposed legislation could change how affordable housing is built in Jersey City for years to come.


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The City Council will introduce an ordinance Wednesday requiring developers of residential projects that have received a use variance or have been permitted to build with increased density or height to set aside 20% of their total units for affordable housing.

Residential developments with 15 or fewer units and projects undertaken by the Jersey City Housing Authority would be exempt from the affordable housing requirement, under the ordinance. Also, projects impacted by rezoning because of a redevelopment master plan update or amendment will also be exempt.

Mayor Steve Fulop said the ordinance will take construction in the city to the next level by forcing developers to include more affordable housing in their projects.

“While our administration has prioritized affordable housing growth for Jersey City, it takes time to construct the new housing, and in many ways, we are trying to make up for the lack of a policy focus for decades before our administration,” Fulop said in a statement.

City Council President Joyce Watterman, who is sponsoring the ordinance with the Fulop administration, said the legislation simply means more affordable housing for city residents.

“Everyone, regardless of income or age, deserves an affordable and safe place to live, and this ordinance looks to protect our most vulnerable populations by requiring developers to incorporate affordable housing going forward,” Watterman said in a statement.

“Whatever affordable housing we can increase on is a plus for the whole city. There is a lot of people who need a place to live,” she added.

More than a third of Jersey City households are defined as “cost-burdened,” meaning they use more than 30% of their income to pay for housing, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Households with a combined annual income of no more than 80 percent of the city’s median income are eligible for affordable units. In Jersey City, the median income is $65,923. A household making less than $52,738 qualifies for affordable housing.

Some projects may forgo a portion of the on-site affordable housing requirement if they build affordable units off site, buy out their affordable housing obligation, and include community contributions like a school or recreational center.

The buyout provision would allow developers to pay the city between $25,000 and $100,000 per unit — money that would then go into Jersey City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Those payments would increase by 2% each year.

However, all projects impacted by the proposed legislation would be required to make 5% of their on-site units affordable regardless of how many affordable units are built off-site, whether they use the buyout provision, or include community contributions.

But Councilman At Large Rolando Lavarro, who co-chaired an inclusionary zoning committee with Watterman, said he wants his council colleagues to reject the proposal and resume discussions on the buyout provision. He said the plan is a “developer’s dream.”

“It does nothing to address the affordable housing crises in Jersey City and does nothing to take that seriously,” Lavarro said. “It allows for so many loopholes so that the requirement and construction of affordable housing will be non-existent under this ordinance.”

Ward E Councilman James Solomon also expressed concerns the ordinance is “too flexible” for developers. He said while you need flexibility, there are too many ways in which the developer can get out of the requirement.

Lavarro added that most of the council wanted the term of affordability to be set at 65 years. In Hoboken, units designated as affordable housing must remain that way for 40 years.

Watterman said each council member would like some flexibility to negotiate what their ward needs.

“Depending on your ward, you can negotiate if you feel like that ward needs more,” Watterman said. “Nothing is written in stone, they have so much flexibility to get what they need for each ward.

“That was the council people’s concern. What you may need in Ward A, you may not need in Ward B. So, it is up to the councilperson to be at the table to make sure their ward is well represented.”


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