Jersey City Skyline
Jersey City Skyline

With its bounty of high-rises and aggressive urbanization, Jersey City is well on its way to becoming the sixth borough of New York. However, this progress occurs at the cost of the residents, as unchecked developers are having their way with overzealous city projects. For the right price, Mayor Steve Fulop will convince you that Jersey City is New York City’s little sibling.

Jersey City is the fifth most expensive city to rent an apartment in in the country, behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,851 per month. In a city of renters, such a price is unaffordable for nearly half of Jersey City residents. Forty-five percent of renters in Jersey City pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs alone. Considering that Jersey City is 70% renters, about one third of our households are struggling to pay for living expenses. They are “cost burdened.”

As a master’s in public administration candidate at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School for Public Service studying public and nonprofit Management with a specialization in political action and advocacy, my goal is to be a resource for my community in such a trying fight. As a lifelong Jersey City resident, it pains me to watch my friends, family, and community struggle against a deck that is vehemently stacked against them.

Jersey City’s affordable housing law needs to omit the “community benefits” provision that politically connected developers have taken advantage of. The community benefits provision allows developers to build amenities that range from parking garages, government offices, police stations, parks, and schools instead of affordable units. The city of Jersey City is being sued by Fair Share Housing, the leading housing advocacy group in the state of New Jersey, for the loopholes provided in its community benefits provision.

Jersey City’s City Council — aside from Ward E City Councilman Solomon and City Councilman-at-Large Lavarro — will convince you that the bare minimum is better than creating an affordable housing law that is substantial. The council will convince you that a minimum of 5% affordable housing with a waiver that could eliminate the entire law as it stands is better than a minimum of 20% affordable housing without any waiver. The same council will try to convince you that any of the community benefits listed above are more than adequate substitutions for affordable housing or that luxury developers should have the privilege of building affordable units away from their multi-million-dollar complexes because it’ll devastate their profits. These are the same city council members who spent the last two years attending inclusionary zoning meetings claiming that they don’t want developers to pay their way out of building affordable units, that they want a minimum of 20% affordable housing, and that they don’t want loopholes for developers. Yet, they still voted for this law with little to no hesitation.

This is the same administration that does the bare minimum in advertising important community meetings, zoning meetings, redevelopment meetings, and other integral meetings that outline the city’s plan for pending projects. This is the same administration that tried to sneak major projects into zoning meetings or community meetings with little to no community engagement to fast track these projects for the same developers they want to sell our city out to. This is the same administration that proposed a major museum development in Journal Square that would cost the city $40 million, of which $24 million is appropriated on behalf by the state of New Jersey. Yet, the state of New Jersey cut approximately $71 million in funding for Jersey City’s education budget.

As a product of the Jersey City Public Schools, saying both the city and state’s priorities are skewed is an understatement. Jersey City residents are already at a disadvantage in the fight to stay in their city. Jersey City residents feel disenfranchised from the fight because the lack of transparency on the part of their elected officials is meant to keep them in the dark until after the deal is done. Jersey City residents shouldn’t be expected to be politically connected to learn when new redevelopment projects, zoning projects, or monumental museums are voted on.

I want to shed light on the lack of affordability in my home town and provide practical solutions to tackle it through policy and political action. I want to lift the voices of my disenfranchised friends, family, and residents who feel discouraged to act against an oppressive administration. Affordable housing should be treated as a human necessity to ensure that quality of life improves within our city’s wavering socio-economic conditions. Yet, Jersey City’s elected officials will offer up our vulnerable neighborhoods on a silver platter to developers to secure their support for an upcoming election cycle.

At the end of the day, I want to build a resilient movement that shows our elected officials that, not only do we have a voice, but our voices matter. I want our administration to see that regardless of how “small” they may consider our movement to be, every opinion matters. The disenfranchised voices of the young, the old, the poor, the weary, the workers, the advocates, and all communities that reside in the robust city that is Jersey City deserve to be acknowledged. Affordable housing is a necessity for our city, and this movement can’t be ignored any longer.

We need Jersey City residents to sign the “people over profits” petition demanding that our elected officials do more to fix the housing crisis in Jersey City. We need to let the voters decide the fate of Jersey City rather than politically connected developers who would rather sell the soul of our home town to make a quick buck.

Adrian Ghainda is an M.P.A. Candidate in Public Policy and Nonprofit Management at New York University Wagner School for Public Service