A former Hoboken Councilman—and current member of Newark’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission and the Housing & Community Development Network of NJ—Joseph Della Fave co-Chaired Governor Murphy’s Housing Transition Committee.
Below is his letter to current Hoboken Councilmembers on the issue of affordable housing.
This letter is regard to your consideration of an “Ordinance Amending Chapter 65, Affordable Housing”.
I am a born and raised Hobokenite who recently moved out. As some of you know, I also served on the City Council for a few terms in the 1980s into 1991 as part of the Vezzetti reform team that promoted open, honest government and progressive policies, including housing justice. As a former Councilmember, I want to first thank you for your public service and the sacrifices this entails.
For additional background purposes, I currently serve on Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s Equitable Growth Advisory Commission, Co-Chaired Governor Murphy’s Housing Transition Committee, and serve on various boards, including the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ. As such, I remain deeply involved in community development, and especially in matters of equity and justice. I drafted Newark’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that requires 20% affordability down to 40% AMI in projects of 30 units or more.
As you may also now, I was a prime sponsor of Hoboken’s original Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance in 1986 when our city was experiencing ongoing, massive displacement. That ordinance was contested in court and when it was upheld after Mayor Vezzetti’s passing, subsequent mayors and councilmembers never enforced it. Hoboken lost years of opportunity and affordable housing.
While we cannot get those lost housing units back, there is no need to continue to give away opportunity. Today, I find abhorrent your consideration of legislation that would exempt developers from building affordable units as mandated by the current law.
If there is reason to explain the need and rationale for requiring these units to be built at the paltry level of 10%, then all is already lost. As I mentioned, Newark’s Inclusionary requires 20% affordability. If a poor city that thirsts for development can make this work, then Hoboken can surely do so as well.
Like Newark, Hoboken has no “COAH” [Council on Affordable Housing] responsibility for building new affordable housing. But, as we all know, families of limited means cannot afford Hoboken’s market housing prices. And in today’s current COVID crisis, with lost jobs and income, more and more are falling into this situation. We either tell them “Too bad!” or we address this problem as best we can.
Requiring a developer to make community contributions in lieu of affordable units does nothing to address housing needs. When a swimming pool is built with these funds, who will swim there? Certainly not the families who can no longer afford to live here.
In Newark, we built a great riverfront park. We wanted to learn lessons from others and try to ensure that residents living in the city today can enjoy the riverfront tomorrow – while it adds to Newark’s amenities and attracts newcomers to the city. But we hold that this is not an either or situation but one that can be both. So we keep equity and justice front and center and prioritize residents, especially the most vulnerable, as best we can. As we consider the needs of the most vulnerable, all will likely benefit.
There are always competing interests as part of these considerations. These are weighed pursuant to the values we prioritize. I urge you to consider strongly equity, justice and building an inclusive community – including the most vulnerable – in your deliberation. Does facilitating development advance equity, justice, and inclusiveness? Or are its benefits restricted to some?
To be clear, intent, which I am not questioning, is not always the same as outcomes. In this case, if you are to give developers a pass at building affordable units as currently required, then, by virtue of the outcome, you will be denying housing opportunities and displacing current residents from the city.
If you are to consider amending the Affordable Housing Ordinance, maybe there should be consideration of increasing the percentage. The Hoboken market can surely support this.
I thank you for your time and wish you luck in your deliberations.
Joseph Della Fave