Jersey City lawmakers had their hands full Wednesday night, reacting to complaints reflecting a tale of two cities.

Over the strenuous objections of Ward C Councilmember Richard Boggiano, the council voted 8–1 to authorize a lease agreement between the city, Jersey City Housing Authority and Garden State Community Development Corporation to provide homeless individuals using Hudson Gardens with intake services, showers, meals in a proper dining area, and laundry services. Hudson Gardens is a public housing site located immediately across Palidade Avenue from Dickinson High School.

The lease will be for 10 years and cost from $140,000 to $167,000 per year. The city will also undertake $2.1 million in alterations to facilitate the expanded services.

“I’m totally disappointed with all of you passing this,” said Boggiano, complaining that no one from the JCHA or Garden State briefed the site’s neighbors on what was coming. He asserted that the homeless contingent who are bused to Hudson Gardens disrupts the area by loitering nearby, urinating in the street, and periodically sleeping in the main building’s hallways.

He said most of the residents in the neighborhood, which he represents, “are furious” over the decision. 

But Jaleel Williams, vice president of the Hudson Gardens Resident Management Board, disagreed, saying that residents “don’t have problems” with the site’s accepting homeless persons for services provided by Garden State. “The people who work there are beautiful,” he said. What residents do need, however, Williams said, is a permanent security presence to deter fighting and arguing.  

Councilmembers Mira Prinz-Arey (Ward B) and James Solomon (Ward E) called for more drop-in service locations for the homeless in other areas of the city in order to in Prinz-Arey’s words “alleviate some stress in different neighborhoods”

Councilmember Frank Gilmore (Ward F) reminded his colleagues that they’ve been rehashing the merits and demerits of the ordinance for too long. 

“There has to be a point of moving forward. There’s a need for this service. These people are human beings!” he said. 

Ward D Councilmember Yousef Saleh said the city administration should “address the security concerns.” In the meantime, he said the council should approve the lease arrangement and alterations because “I think these resources are necessary.”

Gilmore said a previously opened city homeless services center at Rose and Claremont Avenues had experienced problems due to insufficient security. “We need to do whatever is in our power” to make the Garden State center at the Gardens a success, he added.

Acknowledging the Gardens tenants’ desire for sustained security,  Councilman-at-large Daniel Rivera asserted that the JCHA “is not going to hire armed guards. We need to put regular city police officers there.” In fact, he said, “we might have to consider putting fixed-posts at all our public housing sites.”

But public speaker Terence Matthews, who said he lives near the Gardens, asserted that council members can’t guarantee the presence of city cops at the site. He admonished the council for thinking they could simply approve the lease “and then wonder how to deal with (security) issues.  We’ve built eight miles of bikeway paths without a plan to enforce them.”  

Nonetheless, Council President Joyce Watterman pledged to the Gardens tenant representative that the city “will beef up security” at the site. “But if something should go wrong,” she added, he should “pick up the phone” and let the council know about it.

In a tweet posted Thursday, Mayor Steven Fulop acknowledged the council’s approval of the lease agreement. “Despite pushback, I’m thankful this is moving forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, during the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting, a delegation of tenants from Portside Towers’ properties at 100 Warren St. and 155 Washington St. once again pleaded for the city’s help to reverse double-digit rent hikes and to remediate other problems such as non-working elevators, rodent infestation, drafty rooms, and uneven flooring.

Speakers faulted the city’s prior director of the Office of Landlord/Tenant Relations for allegedly sidestepping a municipal code that forbids granting building owners an exemption from rent control in the absence of the filing of an application for that exemption.

That director, Dinah Hendon, was recently replaced by mayoral appointee, the Rev. Shyrone Richardson, founder and senior pastor of the World Outreach Christian Church, of Jersey City. 

At Watterman’s request, city Corporation Counsel Peter Baker outlined the legal framework governing city actions on rent-related matters. Determinations by the landlord/tenant relations director are subject to review by the rent leveling board and appeals of its rulings may be made to the state Superior Court within 45 days of a ruling, Baker said. 

Saleh suggested that the council may want to “beef up” its regulations dealing with landlords filing for rent control exemptions, to which, Baker replied, “I can work with you on that.” 

Asked if building owners could continue to increase rents when faced with legal challenges, Baker said they could “at their own peril” since the court could opt to roll back previously imposed rent increases.

After the meeting, Watterman told the Jersey City Times she was confident Richardson would do everything he can to help the Portside Towers tenants. “It’s a serious thing for me,” she said. “I feel for them.”

In other matters, the council voted 8–1, with Boggiano dissenting, to authorize the transfer of the Loew’s Jersey Theatre to the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency and to appropriate up to $30 million for contingencies that may arise in connection with the theatre’s development into a major entertainment center.

Boggiano opposed the ordinance on the grounds that the nonprofit Friends of the Loew’s, which labored for years to preserve the theater and host programs there, has been left out of the process of its transformation. And, he predicted, the public will be stuck with a bill for the full $30 million. 

Metro replied that the Friends will continue as a partner and that the JCRA “can’t issue any debt without coming back to the council.”

In other matters, the council voted to settle two lawsuits. The lawmakers agreed to pay $300,000 to Antoin Morrieson who alleged he was severely beaten, causing extensive damage to his left eye, by several police officers on Nov. 2, 2016, at Hopkins Avenue and Concord Street in the aftermath of what police termed a suspected drug transaction. Morrieson claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

They also approved a payment of $78,750 to Maria Malihoutsakis, who sued over a trip-and-fall incident on June 12, 2020, as she was crossing Montgomery Street at Summit Avenue. She said a depression in the sidewalk caused her to lose her balance and fall.

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...