Editor’s Note: This is part three of an ongoing interview series with Jersey City’s nine city councilpeople. Jersey Digs has invited all city council members to participate in the Q&A about their outlooks on topics ranging from development and crime to transportation and the tax revaluation for their respective wards. The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Jersey City Heights, the city’s northernmost district, borders Union City and overlooks Hoboken and the Manhattan skyline. Known for its quiet, residential neighborhoods, few large-scale, high-density projects can be found in the area of mostly low-rise, two-, and three-family detached homes. Like the city’s five other wards, Ward D is impacted by the city’s rapid growth. Insufficient parking and questions of affordability plague longtime residents. The Heights, in particular, is bearing the brunt of Journal Square’s growth, evidenced by traffic congestion and packed commuter buses during the weekday rush hour.
Still, The Heights is growing. The Central Avenue Special Improvement District (SID), the first of Jersey City’s six SID’s, continues to support businesses in The Heights’ main shopping district. La Unica Bakery, Paulie’s Brickhouse, and Froth on Franklin have all recently opened, and even businesses from downtown Jersey City are expanding to The Heights.
Ward D Councilman Michael Yun has been a fixture in The Heights for nearly four decades. Yun managed his general store Garden State News on Central Avenue until 2015, when the councilman transformed the space into an auxiliary council office. After a resounding reelection on November 5, Yun began his second term on Jan. 1. An independent, Yun continues his role as the Fulop administration’s main adversary; the councilman is often one of the few consistent no votes for city ordinances. “My job is to read the fine print,” explains Yun. “That’s why the people elect me.”
During Yun’s conversation with Jersey Digs, the councilman spoke at length about the future of Ward D. He emphasized that Jersey City’s tax revaluation will positively impact The Heights, anticipating that downtown residents will relocate elsewhere within the city and ideally settle in The Heights. In spite of the challenges the reval and the development boom present, Yun says, “Jersey City is a great [city] because still, we have a lot of opportunity available.”
On how Jersey City’s property tax revaluation will affect The Heights:
We have to know the history. In 1988, those times, Jersey City Heights is like a downtown. When I got the tax bill after [the 1988 reval], my taxes went up, doubling. At the time, it hit The Heights very hard. People, especially seniors, wanted to get out because they on fixed incomes and those fixed incomes are not able to pay the tax what they have now. Almost every house had a for sale sign.
So, now what happened in 2017? This reval is going to hurt a lot of homeowners in downtown. They’re going to get out. But for some reason, because of jobs and so on, they have to stay somewhere in Jersey City. They want to come to The Heights. After the reval, we’re going to be greater.
On improving parking and mass transportation in The Heights:
Every place you go [in Jersey City], there is a parking issue. But in The Heights parking issue is different than downtown. If you’re willing to pay money [to park downtown], there’s a space available. In The Heights, even you’re willing to pay to rent a space, there is no space available. So we have a new parking rule starting May 1 of 2018. So in other words, 24 hours enforcement and only you can park car in The Heights without a permit maximum of 4 hours.
Mass transportation is a major problem in The Heights. Compared to other places, here is pretty good. But what is the problem — Kennedy Boulevard, Central Avenue, Palisade Avenue — we have a major transportation going to New York City. When the 119 [bus] comes up Central Avenue, there’s no room. Why? After they opened the 50-story building in Journal Square, the [renters] who live there work in downtown Manhattan, another group work in midtown Manhattan. They’re the ones, take over the 119 in the morning. So when they come to Central Avenue, people who live in The Heights — no room! Very negative impact on the surrounding area.
I have spoken with [Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano]. Any project they build, they must come with two things. One, how they are going to improve the mass transportation. Second, how about the parking. If you go other major developments to the area, they provide a shuttle bus. [Editor’s note: Yun cites Cast Iron Lofts in downtown Jersey City as an example.] I already insisted, if you build a 50-story building, they should provide their own shuttle bus to 42nd Street. But they don’t do that. It’s wrong and [the developer] is able to maximize his profit but meantime surrounding areas get [hurt]. People living there [in Journal Square] get a SID. We don’t. When I look at it, it’s not a New Jersey Transit transportation issue. So citywide when you have a high rise, density increase, must come up with a parking and mass transportation plan. Without it, we should not approve that.
On improving parks and increasing open space in The Heights:
One of the dreams of the next four years, I hope we make Reservoir #3 really an everyday park. Today, they’re open only a minimal time per year. But they should be open 7 days a week. If they do that, believe it or not, this area will change big time.
If Reservoir #3 is developed well as a park, probably this is the only one urban area that has fishing and kayaking. The Heights is a small area actually. We have seven parks — St. Anthony, Riverview, Washington, Pershing Field, Reservoir, Mosquito, and Terrace Park — we probably have the most parks in this area.
On expanding affordable housing and rent control in Jersey City:
Gentrification is an issue with every level of income. Senior housing is number one issue. As a councilman, the number one complaint is that, especially seniors — they live here, 30, 40 years — a lot of seniors come in, almost 2-3 seniors every week, looking for housing. This is a very serious problem. [In The Heights] there’s no empty lot. It’s hard to build senior housing.
In Jersey City, [we need to] correct the problem of affordable housing before you build more. Number 1, select applicants have to have lottery. If there a lot of demand for affordable housing, [the federal government] recommend a lottery system. Number 2, there should be used a common application. Every affordable housing unit, they have all different application. If you’re interested in affordable housing, then you have to fill out 20 different applications. Is that right? Especially for the senior housing, they drive the senior crazy. So we have to use a common application. No first come, first serve. Then I’ll feel comfortable, whatever we build affordable housing will share fairness with the people of Jersey City. Then what do we have to do? We have to build more housing.
How are we going to solve the problem? Very easy. If the mayor has a will, want to solve the problem, then it’s there. But if the mayor continue to want to give 5 percent, double it then we’re never going to solve the problem.
Rent control, the current law we have, I’m not in favor to change it because the current rent control has an issue too. Because properties keep going up but you cannot increase your rent. Then how the landlord continue maintaining the building? So if you change it more, it’s going to cause a problem. Already we have a very strict rent control law. If you change it more, then they’re gonna cause a problem too. So we’re going to have be sure that they keep the balance well. So instead of changing the current rent control law, we should know how we influence what we have now.