‘Rent Control Crisis’ politics will fail to address housing affordability crisis

Even if Ward E Councilperson James Solomon’s “Rent Control Crisis” politics are well-intentioned, they defy the laws of economics and will fail to address Jersey City’s housing affordability crisis.

Ward E Councilperson James Solomon

First things first, I’ll be officially/finally/absolutely done with publishing new content on Real Jersey City within the next 15 days. I’m rebranding & refocusing, both professionally & personally, under a new moniker.

Until then, I want to follow up on a few items that – for one reason or another – remain uncompleted. One of those items includes a discussion about housing policy in Jersey City, specifically rent control.

This past spring, I had the pleasure to talk with Ward E Councilperson James Solomon about his office’s report detailing a “Rent Control Crisis” in Downtown Jersey City. Due to varying priorities and procrastination, I never got around to doing a write-up about our interview until now.

WATCH/LISTEN BELOW (originally published May 9, 2019):

However well-intentioned, Solomon’s report is 50% reality & 50% progressive idealism that’s symbolic of when government becomes the disease masquerading as the cure. Safeguarding 1,200 units of housing in a section of the city that’s added multiples of that number in less than a decade – almost entirely luxury units, no less – is a misguided strategy to combat the affordability crisis.

In short, Jersey City doesn’t have a “Rent Control Crisis,” it has a housing affordability crisis that will be exacerbated by enacting more rent control regulations.

Fighting to preserve about 600 rent-controlled units for long-term Downtown JC residents, in an effort to maintain some level of cultural diversity, is fanciful at best. This seems to be more about Solomon solidifying a voter base rather than actual progress, especially when you consider the other 550-600 rent-controlled units are being occupied by tenants that moved into the unit after 2011 and are likely paying market rates (and may now be encouraged to file complaints for illegal rent increases).

Sadly, as estimated by Solomon, about 25% of all Jersey City residents (70,000 people) are living in a severe housing crisis. That’s a reality rent control cannot alleviate. Expanding & strengthening rent control will only reduce the quality & quantity of housing units needed to address the situation.

The ugly truth is that rent control created the mythical slumlord because only certain types of investors are willing to deal with the practical & regulatory issues that come with older multi-unit dwellings.

In fact, there’s plenty of evidence rent control is a terrible idea (NPR link for liberals). It’s kind of like the climate change consensus of economics. The solution to Jersey City’s affordability crisis isn’t more rent control, it’s about cooling down housing demand – especially from NYC.

That’s why there’s no reason to doubt Solomon when he says that many long-term Downtown residents are concerned about their landlord “pushing them out” and not addressing much needed repairs. It’s natural that landlords are seeking to capitalize on skyrocketing demand, which has made them an easy target for politicians and regulators, but heightened enforcement and closing “loopholes” won’t make the city more affordable.

Simply put, ill-advised housing policies that are failing from San Francisco to New York are the problem. More rent control will not address those much needed repairs Solomon was talking about. Housing code enforcement has limitations, especially when the city is passing ordinances making it harder for landlords to recoup the costs associated with proper maintenance.

Now, to be fair, Jersey City does have a lot of housing development and thousands of new units coming to the market. Even if more is needed, especially in Journal Square, building alone won’t satisfy housing demand. Additionally, the city has actually invested $170,000,000 to develop thousands of “affordable housing units” on the Bayfront. While I’m 99.9% sure it will be a boondoggle, I suppose local officials should be given the benefit of the doubt for “trying”…

Supply issues aside, a lack of cohesive public policy is turning much-needed development into a scapegoat for the ongoing school funding crisis. It’s real life whack-a-mole, and contrary to conservative nonsense, the school funding problem can’t be solved with audits and spending cuts (which would undoubtedly hit the poorest kids hardest) as the student population grows.

That’s why, and I hate to be the person calling for more taxes, I’m once again calling for a progressive income tax to slow down hyper-gentrification and fully fund Jersey City Public Schools. Despite being open to the idea of a local income tax, Solomon’s lack of enthusiasm makes him feel like another politician unwilling to talk about how they’re going to pay for stuff.

In summary, Solomon is actually a decent person, but rent control is a terrible, misguided idea. At the same time, the people living in a severe housing crisis deserve better than the stereotypical “sucks for them, but can’t help” mentality you’d expect from right-wing Republicans.

With all that said, I’m going to stop this piece at a little over 800 words. So much more to say, including digging deep into the specifics and adding some fresh ideas to the mix, but I’ll be saving it for my next project.

Until then, stay tuned.

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