After years of little progress on the issue, two recent developments have given advocates of affordable housing hope that Jersey City will enact some changes aimed at creating new units for those with moderate incomes throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
The first involves the city’s 95-acre Bayfront property that they purchased last year to develop into a mixed-use community. Mayor Steve Fulop’s office had a notable spat with activist group Jersey City Together earlier this year over affordable housing to be included in the project, with the group wishing to ensure that 35% of the units get designated as affordable.
The two sides appear to have mended fences, as the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency released a Request For Proposals (RFP) last month regarding Bayfront that featured “an aggregate goal of 35% affordable housing.” The RFP noted that proposals from developers that meet or exceed that threshold “will be given greater preference” and applications including fewer than 20% affordable housing won’t be considered.
Affordable housing in Bayfront became a contentious issue in part because while the city has discussed an affordable housing ordinance for years, no real action has been taken on the matter. Unlike neighboring Hoboken and Newark, Jersey City currently lacks an ordinance that requires developers to include affordable units in their projects unless they are granted a tax break (see: Hudson Exchange West and others).
Additionally, there are over 100 redevelopment plans scattered throughout Jersey City, almost none of which contain any affordable housing requirements. It’s why 1,000-unit projects like the Emerson Radio Factory or the massive 1,840-unit Journal Squared development can get built under current regulations without setting aside any units as affordable.
This summer, dueling ordinances have been advanced that would add new affordable housing requirements to developments in Jersey City. The first, introduced by Councilmembers Rolando Lavarro and Joyce Watterman, would establish strict requirements that any new construction over ten units asking for either zoning variances or redevelopment amendments would have to designate 20% of all on-site apartments as affordable. The plan would additionally set aside half of those units for people making between 0 to 50% of the region’s median income, with the other half being designated for individuals with an income between 50 to 80% of the average.
The competing ordinance, introduced by Mayor Fulop, also requires 20% affordable housing in new developments asking for variances or redevelopment amendments but only on projects over 30 units. Fulop’s version has a number of exceptions and potential buyouts that would allow developers to either pay the city $5,000 and then build the affordable units in the same ward as their project or contribute to the city’s affordable housing trust fund at a rate of $25,000 to $100,000 per unit depending on where the development is located. Rates for the second buyout would increase annually.
Fulop’s plan does require a minimum 5% on-site affordable housing requirement even on developments that take a buyout, and his version would give the city flexibility in reducing the on-site affordable housing in projects in exchange for “community benefits” like schools, parks, or garages. Both versions of the ordinance would apply to projects throughout the entire city, including those that fall within redevelopment plans.
Last month, an ad hoc council committee was formed to reconcile the differences between the pair of ordinances. City Council President Rolando Navarro says movement on the issue could come in August when a final ordinance could be voted on. Any future affordable housing ordinance would not retroactively apply to developments that are already approved, meaning any project that’s already been greenlit or is currently being built would not have to comply with the new ordinance.