At its caucus yesterday, the city council once again wrestled with aid to stressed renters and the control of cannabis businesses while considering the cutting of a big check to a victim of alleged police brutality.

On the rental front, it appears that beleaguered Jersey City tenants will be getting relief sooner than expected.

The media has chronicled the upward trajectory of the city’s housing costs.

Although the city is committed to recalibrating its formula for pocketing fees from developers to fund more “affordable housing” opportunities, full activation of that process—including a state Superior Court review of the city’s proposed spending plan—will take two years to implement. 

So, the City Council at the behest of council President Joyce Watterman is calling on the city administration to start tapping money previously collected from developers for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to distribute to desperate tenants who, otherwise, may face evictions.

At Monday’s council caucus, Watterman wondered if the city could “allot at least $1 million to $2 million from our long-term tax abatement fund for a rent-relief program now.  We don’t want to get tied up two years waiting on court approval.”

City attorney John McKinney affirmed that the city “can move forward with the money already collected.”

Ward E Councilmember James Solomon, who has advocated for more affordable housing in the city, told the Jersey City Times that the city has approximately $6.9 million in its Affordable Housing Trust Fund (of which about $3 million comes from non-residential developer contributions and nearly $4 million from residential long-term tax abatement fees). 

Asked how the city would apportion money to tenants from the AHTF for rent relief, Solomon said, “which tenants will qualify would be determined by the city.”

Unlike the provisions of a new ordinance (up for public hearing Wednesday) that sets income guidelines for recipients of affordable housing assistance from “development impact” fees on new construction projects, Solomon said any money that would be distributed to tenants for rent relief from the existing AHTF “is not income-restricted.”

On another front, the council found itself, once again, deliberating over whether on Wednesday to hear new applications by prospective cannabis retail operators and debated with city Corporation Council Peter Baker about whether it should act on two applications for a new cannabis shop downtown and another on the West Side.

Watterman noted that the council had previously voted for a 6-month moratorium on new applications that started on May 15 yet was now being asked to approve letters of support for two new shops.

On prior occasions, the council wondered if it was working under one set of rules and the CCB and Planning Board – which also review applications – were operating under a different protocol.  Meanwhile, the number of applicants continues to surge.  The city, which is weighing possible changes to the ordinance governing retail cannabis operations, has set no city-wide cap on the number of such businesses.

“We keep saying to applicants, ‘Nothing’s going forward,’ ’’ Watterman said, “and now, we’re confused again.”

Baker responded that applicants who had filed before the start of the moratorium were being afforded the opportunity of council review because of the financial investment they had made to date, a hardship that has sparked sympathy among council members.

Baker added that Jersey City wasn’t “unique in this industry” and that the city – like others in New Jersey – was still struggling to find the right approach.

Nonetheless, the council is being asked Wednesday to consider applications by Kushmart Jersey LLC to operate a cannabis business at 1521 Kennedy Blvd., at Pamrapo Avenue, and by Bud Space LLC, for a shop at a vacant lot at 270 Newark Ave., off Monmouth Street.

Solomon noted that he had concerns that the proposed downtown site would sit “next to a school and day care center” and that the applicant had had “zero contact with anyone in the community” about the plans for the business.

Watterman agreed, saying, “People should know what’s coming in to their neighborhoods. I’d like to meet with these applicants before we move forward.”

The city is under pressure to decide on a course of action given that there are 47 cannabis retail applications in the pipeline that were filed before May 15 according to city Director of Licensing Maynard Woodson.

Kushmart has been granted conditional-use approval by the city Planning Board and passed muster by the city Cannabis Control Board by a 3-2 vote to convert an existing restaurant, church, and storage facility to a cannabis dispensary while Bud Space is awaiting Planning Board action after passing CCB review.

Kushmart proposes to pay New Jersey City University $10,000 a year to help finance its “emergency fund” for students experiencing loss of either parents, a job, or a home and has offered to host internships at the dispensary for NJCU students over the age of 21 and hire NJCU graduates.  Bud Space says it’s partnering with Let’s Share a Meal, a local community kitchen, to help provide food for the needy.

In a public safety matter, the city is considering paying a $6,950,000 legal settlement of a civil rights lawsuit filed by Miguel A. Feliz-Rodriguez, of West New York, against the city and five city police officers stemming from an incident June 4, 2017, in which officers engaged in a high-speed chase of a suspect along Tonnele Avenue. The chase ended when the suspect’s car crashed into the vehicle driven by Feliz-Rodriguez, causing both vehicles to smash into a utility poll and ignite in fire. Feliz-Rodriguez suffered severe burns. And has also alleged that two officers kicked him after he ran from his vehicle. Three officers involved in the chase later resigned and another has retired.

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...