Rolando Lavarro Jersey City
Rolando Lavarro

Dear Affordable Housing Supporter,

I hope this message finds you well and in good health. I’m writing to get your input on an important vote coming before the City Council TONIGHT, Wednesday, December 15. Before I get into the specifics, I want to thank you again for your past advocacy for a fairer and more equitable Jersey City. Over the past 12 to 18 months, community advocacy for a strong inclusionary zoning ordinance (IZO) and more affordable housing opportunities has shaped the debate in Jersey City politics and government, and has helped shape the future of Jersey City. Your voices and actions have had a positive impact on the future of Jersey City.

Tonight, the City Council will vote on an IZO. Again. This will be the fourth vote the council will take on an IZO since early 2019. I won’t use much space in this email about the history of those IZO votes. However, if you would like to refresh your memory or learn about the history of the IZO in Jersey City, you can click on this link to read more.

What I think you should know about the new IZO is this: the new IZO is a significant improvement over the previous IZO that passed by the Mayor and his Council in October 2020 and was eventually struck down by the courts. However, the current IZO falls short of what we advocated so strongly for, namely 20% on-site affordable housing.

With this email, I am going to do my best to succinctly share what I believe are the pros and cons of the IZO that is before the city council. If you would like more comprehensive information about this IZO, I have written a lengthier letter that describes the proposed IZO in greater detail, clearly stating the objective facts and offering pros and cons from my perspective. If you would like to review that letter, you can click on this link.

That being said, following are the generally agreed upon pros of the new IZO:


  • This ordinance has the endorsement of Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), who negotiated and developed this law with the Mayor and his Council. FSHC filed the lawsuit against the City that resulted in the sham IZO being struck down by the courts this past August.
  • The October 2020 IZO exempted Master Plan changes from the set-aside requirement of on-site affordable housing. The current proposal removes the Master Plan exemption.
  • The 10% and 15% minimum on-site affordable housing set-aside for Tier 1 (part of Jersey City located largely outside of Downtown) and Tier 2 (Downtown, Port Liberte and Society Hill), respectively, is an increase over the 5% set aside in the Mayor’s October 2020 IZO.
  • A tax abatement for a development in Tier 1 mandates an increase of the on-site affordable housing set-aside by an additional 5%.
  • Developer loopholes have been eliminated completely. No buyouts, no community benefits, and no waivers to reduce or eliminate developer obligations to provide either 10% or 15% on-site affordable housing.

Following is a summary of the most significant shortcomings of the IZO in my opinion:


  • Newark NJ has adopted 20%. Jurisdictions throughout the State of New Jersey require a 20% set-aside. While the 10% and 15% set-aside in Tier 1 and Tier 2, respectively, are a significant improvement, this IZO falls short of the 20% on-site affordable housing set-aside that we have advocated for since 2019 Additionally, Jersey City has the most lucrative real estate market in the State. We should be able to do 20%.
  • The on-site affordable housing set-aside for upper income neighborhoods in Downtown Jersey City is set at 15%. Given the real estate market in Downtown Jersey City, residential development projects can sustain and should have a set-aside of 20% in Downtown Jersey City.
  • Back in 2019, a developer proposed a massive development at the outskirts of Jersey City’s Downtown that would include nearly 900 units and multiple 50 story buildings. The IZO establishes an on-site affordable housing set-aside of 10% for the area where this project (Census tract 65) is being proposed. Hot real estate markets like this one should have a higher affordable housing set-aside.
  • “Upper Income” areas have an on-site affordable housing set-aside of 15% in this IZO. In contrast, “Low, Moderate, and Middle Income” areas are subject to a 10% on-site affordable housing set-aside. If one takes a closer look at the IZO map, I think most reasonable people would be skeptical of what is defined as “upper income” vs. “low, moderate and middle income.” For example, Mayor Fulop owns two homes on Ogden Avenue (Census tract 8) in The Jersey City Heights which are classified as Tier 1 (low, moderate, and middle income). Property values are soaring in this area as evidenced by the Mayor’s recent purchase of a $2.4 million dollar home which was reported in The Jersey Journal. Areas like these should be classified as upper income areas and subject to higher on-site affordable housing set-aside. The maximum AMI in Tier 1 is currently 120%. It should be capped at 100%, reclassifying areas like Census tracts 65 and 8 as “upper income” neighborhoods.
  • While this IZO increases the set-aside in Tier 1 if a development receives a tax abatement, developments in Tier 2 are not subject to increases in their on-site affordable housing set-aside. This policy seems arbitrary and capricious, favoring upper-income communities over Jersey City’s working families.

In closing, let me say that I have no doubt that Fair Share Housing Center has negotiated the strongest ordinance it could under the circumstances. For the reasons I have noted above and due to the advocacy of FSHC, this IZO is a huge improvement over the IZO that was adopted by Mayor Fulop and his City Council in October 2020. Worth noting is that there are no developer loopholes which is a huge victory for Jersey City’s residents – one which we fought for. Still, the fact is that the proposed IZO falls short of the strong IZO that we advocated for over a year, namely 20% on-site affordable units. Also, there appear to be other gaps which I describe above.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this IZO as you have been at the heart of the advocacy for a fairer, more equitable Jersey City and a strong IZO. Can you take a few minutes to complete a short questionnaire and share your input about this IZO in the next 36 hours? Please let me know what you think of this IZO by clicking on this link. Please feel free to share this questionnaire with others.

Whether you support or oppose the IZO (or somewhere in between), I also invite you to voice your opinions at tonight’s council meeting. Your voice should be heard by the city council before they vote on this critical legislation. To sign up to speak, go to this link.  Then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the ‘CREATE’ button, and then complete and submit the “REQUEST TO SPEAK” form.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy message and thank you for all you do! I look forward to reading your responses and hearing from you at the council meeting TONIGHT.

Rolando Lavarro

Council At-Large

Ph: 201-320-2128