Jersey City Building under Construction
Jersey City Building under Construction

A new plan that would allow builders to increase the number of apartments in a development in exchange for including affordable units is getting a mixed reception.

The new ordinance, announced on Friday by Mayor Fulop and the Division of City Planning, and called the “Affordable Housing Overlay,” would apply to projects where the developer can build “as of right,” meaning that the developer can build without having to seek variances or zoning changes.

Under much of the city’s decades-old zoning, there is no requirement that a builder include affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Overlay would incentivize developers to include from 10 to 15 percent affordable housing, depending on the neighborhood’s income level, where currently none is required.

Builders would be allowed to increase the project’s “density” or number of units, to make the project work financially. However, they would have to stay within height and setback limits — also known as the building “envelope” — already in place.

“Developments using this Overlay will be able to seek approval before the Planning Board, rather than needing to go to the City Council for a rezoning or the Zoning Board for variances,” said City Planning Director Tanya Marione.

“I give them credit in that they’re trying to be creative,” said Bob Antonicello, former executive director of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency.

Adam Gordon, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center was also supportive. “We are glad to see Mayor Fulop expand on the existing IZO (inclusionary zoning ordinance) with this innovative approach.”

Gordon’s support carries some weight given that last year his group successfully brought a lawsuit against the city to invalidate a different IZO arguing that the affordable mandates were insufficient. The court agreed and, as a result, a more stringent ordinance covering projects that require a variance or rezoning, was enacted in December.

Others, however, are less enamored of the new plan.

“What a watered-down sham of an IZ plan this is” tweeted Rutgers Professor Emmy Tiderington. “‘Voluntary’ policies mean very little to JC developers.”

Lincoln High School Principal and former councilman Chris Gadsden tweeted that “Voluntary Inclusionary Housing with no City Council vote … is not what we asked for.”

The issue of housing affordability has been an ongoing flashpoint as Jersey City has gentrified. According to a study published last week, of 18,051 units built in the last decade, 95 percent are considered “luxury.”  This compares to 86 percent in New York City and 60 percent in Newark.

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....