Affordable housing took up the lion’s share of time during yesterday’s municipal council caucus.

Following through on a pledge to narrow the socio-economic shelter gap confronting many residents, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano is pushing for a more equitable share of affordable housing in the Journal Square area.

To facilitate that goal, Boggiano is seeking support from his fellow legislators to amend the Journal Square 2060 Redevelopment Plan as it relates to “inclusionary zoning” a key ingredient that needs to be applied to the new developments in the area.

Michael Ehrmann, who chairs the Affordable Housing Task Force of the Journal Square Association, outlined the scope of the proposed changes to the city code at Monday night’s City Council caucus.

The proposed changes would affect all new residential or mixed-use projects with 30 or more residential units and/or all new major rehabs containing 50 or more residential units.

Buildings in these projects would be required to set aside 10% of all units for households with incomes at 80% or less of median income and include a mix of moderate, low and very low income residents.

The city has already created a precedent for mandating property owners/developers to reserved a fixed number of units as affordable, Ehrmann said, with the first phase of the highly-touted Bayfront waterfront development on the city’s West Side.

The affordable units in Journal Square would be kept affordable for 30 years and residents’ rentals would be fixed so that they would spend no more than 30% of their adjusted incomes on rent.

Typically, developers participate in IZO agreements with the city when they are seeking certain kinds of density variances but, according to Ehrmann, “these ‘triggers’ … do not work in Journal Square” because the ward’s zoning is “permissive,” thereby “allowing high densities for (new) residential properties.”

As a result, he added, “owners have no incentive to request density variances, especially that they now trigger the IZO.”

To remedy this, Ehrmann said, “we’re asking for a new trigger” to accelerate the pace of development of affordable units.

Of more than 20,000 new residential units completed, under construction or in the pipeline in the Journal Square Redevelopment Area, only 198 – less than 1% of the total – have been developed as affordable housing, he said.

“No new affordable housing has been built and made available for occupation in the Journal Square Redevelopment Area since 2007,” Ehrmann said, “(and) the majority of affordable housing in the Journal Square area was built 40 or more years ago.”

Current opportunities to rent affordable apartments in the Journal Square Redevelopment Area are limited, Ehrmann said, given that there are “only 123 units of rent-restricted housing, with 93 of the units reserved for seniors and only 30 available to the general public,” while the entire ward has just 1,732 units of rent-restricted housing.

Moreover, Ehrmann noted, increased rents in newer buildings are “making it difficult for even middle-class families to remain in the neighborhood. The proposed reservation of units for those earning between 81% and 120% of the area median income will help maintain the area’s status as one of Jersey City’s truly mixed-income neighborhoods.”

Ehrmann said he was unaware of any legal challenges elsewhere in the state to the types of mandatory affordability requirements proposed for Journal Square, including a citywide IZO in Newark containing similar types of mandates and Bayfront.

Responding to the proposed IZO amendments, John Metro, city business administrator, said Ehrmann’s reference to the mandated affordablility presence at Bayfront was “an unfair comparison” because in that case, the project site is “city-owned land,” in contrast to the private property owners the city has dealt with the Journal Square Redevelopment Area.

Metro added that the city, in its negotiations with developers, has agreed to higher densities on the basis of “bonuses, not mandates.”

But he said the administration was willing to entertain further discussions on the Journal Square IZO proposals.

In two other housing-related matters scheduled for Wednesday’s meeting, the City Council will be asked to introduce an ordinance renewing a long-term tax exemption for Lafayette Village and approve a resolution of need for the rehabilitation Montgomery Gateway Apartments.

Preserve Lafayette L.P., based in St. Louis, Mo., the sponsor of the 124-unit Lafayette Village, a mix of low, moderate and market rate housing along Manning, Woodward, Johnston and Grand streets, is seeking a 30-year tax exemption to secure about $11 million from the N.J. Mortgage Housing Finance Agency for substantial rehabilitation, including new kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances, bath vanities, countertops and appliances, HVAC equipment and water heaters, new flooring, lighting and plumbing fixtures, façade repair, elevator repairs, ADA compliance, security cameras and fencing.

Upon completion, the unit mix will include 77 public housing units, 31 affordable units (for occupants earning up to 60% of area median income) and 16 market rate units.

In the other matter, The Related Companies, of New York, proposes to rehabilitate Montgomery Gateway Apartments, a 190-unit, 10-building multi-family housing complex on Montgomery Street and is asking the city to affirm the project “will meet an existing housing need” and “will meet all or part of the (city’s) low and moderate-income housing obligation” so the company can qualify for funding for the improvements.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...