With Construction Well Underway, Mack-Cali Asks to Move The Charlotte’s Affordable Housing Off-Site

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The Charlotte 25 Columbus Jersey City Affordable Housing
The Charlotte is currently under construction at 25 Columbus Drive in Downtown Jersey City. Photo by Chris Fry/Jersey Digs.

A new piece of Jersey City’s emerging skyline at the corner of Columbus Drive and Warren Street could see some deviations from what was approved, as the developer behind the project is asking for zoning changes that would allow them to relocate the project’s required affordable units elsewhere.

Mack-Cali has been building a 57-story tower called The Charlotte for months, work that currently involves façade installation. Designed by Elkus Manfredi, the ground floor of the project will include 17,000-square feet of retail space plus a 36,000-square foot public elementary school to be deeded to the city for $1.

The remainder of The Charlotte will feature 750 rental apartments and 5% of them are slated to be affordable housing per regulations that govern the parcel. But Mack-Cali has submitted a request to amend Jersey City’s Block 13102 Redevelopment Plan that would modify those requirements and allow them to provide the affordable units “within one mile” of the project.

The changes would increase the number of affordable units provided by Mack-Cali from 37 to 40, breaking down as eight studios, 22 one-bedroom spaces, and 10 two-bedroom units. The modifications would also lengthen the affordability controls to last 30 years from the previously required 20.

The alterations dictate that the off-site affordable units would need to be provided “within Ward E and east of Marin Boulevard,” although a specific location is not disclosed. The wording of the amendments leaves open the possibility that Mack-Cali could convert existing units at other residential developments they own into the required affordable housing.

In terms of future construction that could include the affordable units if the changes are allowed, Mack-Cali’s most prominent undeveloped property is their approved 68-story tower called Harborside 8. The company also owns a block-long parcel at 107 Morgan Street and is a partner with Ironstate Development on the Downtown Urby project, which has two planned but unbuilt towers.

Affordable housing possibly being moved from The Charlotte comes just about a month after Jersey City passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Designed to create affordable units in new developments, some officials have criticized the legislation as loophole-laden and too friendly towards developers.

The changes Mack-Cali is seeking for the affordable housing component of The Charlotte will be discussed during the planning board’s November 24 session, where formal action could be taken. The virtual meeting, being held on Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions, begins at 5:30 p.m. and can be joined at this link or by using the ID 858 2241 1566.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. One of the benefits of affordable housing is to economically integrate neighborhoods and buildings. Putting middle-class and poor people in segregated housing is a policy we should be trying to end.

  2. They have a lot of nerve asking to do that. Unbelievable and the city BETTER NOT let them do it. I agree with Anna R, socioeconomic integration by keeping affordable units in the same building as the luxury is extremely important.

    For this particular project especially, they can’t even provide 5% of 750 units as “affordable” in their 57-story tower, really?? Give me a break.

  3. The *poor* aren’t being segregated from living at this building anymore than I’m being segregated from living on Billionaire’s Row in NYC. It’s looney socialist nonsense that low income earner’s should be delivered semi-luxury accommodations simply because they’re *poor*. Legions of people came to the US with nothing and made a life for themselves. Millions didn’t even speak English but worked hard, got an education for themselves and/or their kids and made their way up the ladder. If people like you and TH are so concerned about housing the *poor* why don’t you take in a few yourselves?

  4. Disappointing news, but modern housing policy is all wrong. I’m thinking housing vouchers are the way to go, so people can live where they want. And have the costs partially be shared at city/county government so everyone has a vested interests in ensuring there is a decent amount of market rate workforce housing being built.

  5. I don’t think affordable housing isn’t an important discussion but I think it would be more productive discussions if the people arguing against it made educated, reasonable argument rather than the typical “oh I lived here for 20 years so I should have to pay fractions of the market rent”.

    Most these developers don’t live in JC and are businessmen. Why would they want to provide affordable housing to random residents? Just put yourself in their shoes and you just spent an enormous amount of money to purchase and build a new building and have $3,000 apartment that people are like “nahhh I think you should have to rent that for $1,500 a month.”

    Come up with some realistic solutions rather than spewing the same nonsense on every article about a new development. It cheapens the process.

  6. I’m as YIMBY as they come, but I completely disagree with the mindset of “why would these businessmen want to provide affordable housing to random residents”. Of course businesses care about profits only, that’s a given and the whole reason why zoning regulations exist/are needed, to ensure the public benefits from development and we don’t have developer barons steamrolling the community to maximize their profits.

    Is there something unreasonable about asking a developer to provide affordable housing when only the richest people can afford the vast majority of units they are building? They are the ones benefitting off the taxpayer dime to get their profits (who do you think pays for PATH service, without which none of these would be happening?) You all seem to be arguing against the very idea of community givebacks, of which affordable units are one critical type. If you think big corporate developers like Mack-Cali are the victims here and owe nothing to the community they are profiting off of, then I just blatantly disagree I’m sorry.

    I also completely disagree that the poor aren’t being segregated from this building. That’s **exactly** what is happening! They were approved and required to include 5% affordable units out of 750, and now they are asking to move the affordable units offsite away from the delicate rich people. Can you explain how that’s NOT segregation based on income? Mind you, even the “affordable” units in many of these developments are out of reach to most working-class people who are being crunched the most by the housing crisis, but that’s a separate discussion.

    The bottom line is we have an affordable housing crisis that requires massive action to fix. Do you not think the affordable housing crisis is a crisis? Who and where do you expect to build the thousands (millions really) of units we need, if t the very least we’re not requiring developers to include a small % in their new luxury developments?

  7. Here is my thought on affordable housing in luxury buildings, and it is just a thought, and I’m open to hearing others discussions on it, but please no attacking.

    Aren’t the neighborhoods where luxury buildings are located more expensive to live in than neighborhoods where they are not?

    So let’s say we do put the affordable housing there. But then the grocery store, the coffee shop, and all of the restaurants are more expensive than in other parts of the city. Even Shop – Rite is more expensive than Supremo and Aqui markets.

    To me, the better solution would be to force developers to build more affordable units in parts of the city that still have ample transportation, but have lower neighborhood costs. Sure, you can build 300 premium units downtown, but you need to build 100 affordable units somewhere else so that people can live a comfortable life.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong in this assumption, but when I look out on Newark ave Plaza, most of the people pay $13 for a drink are probably not in affordable housing. Wouldn’t they be more financially secure going to a bar where it’s $5 a drink?

    I’m not judging these people at all, heck, I’ve been the guy that can’t afford a $13 drink most of my life, but I think we need to think about how they can integrate into a more expensive community if their income is still low.

  8. @TH- What I think you may fail to realize is that the issue of *affordable housing* has two main components- one economic, one social. Why should the onus be on the developer to provide housing for low income earners (the *poor*) in the first place? Did they create this problem? Of course not. The social issue is why are some people low income earners and possibly impoverished in the first place? The answer is that most lack skills and/or an education to compete in a modern job market. Should the STATE provide for anyone and everyone who comes calling for a handout? Personally, I think not.

    The fact is developers create jobs, build and rehab communities, upgrade everyone’s standard of living ( quality restaurants, shopping, parks, infrastructure, low crime, etc) and all of this contributes to boatloads of TAX MONEY which then pays for housing, health care, food stamps etc for the *poor*.

    The bottom line is that developers can not solve the problem of housing low income earners (*the poor*) by themselves. Should they, by extension, provide housing for the mentally ill, drug addicts and alcoholics and artists and anarchists? Illegal aliens?

    I don’t have grand solution but certainly would be in favor of a 1930s type WPA program where abled body men and women work at SOMETHING instead of hanging out on the street. Teach them to rehab shipping containers. Voila, affordable housing right there!………start in a tiny home and work your way up. Just like countless millions did in the last century.

  9. I definitely agree that a there are both social & economic factors contributing to the affordable housing crisis, and I agree with you and would also be in favor of programs like that to create jobs and housing. You don’t have a grand plan to solve the crisis and neither do I, there is no silver bullet and we are obviously going to need multi-pronged solutions to fix things. Which is why I’m even more confused why anyone would oppose these modest requirements, as they fit in perfectly as part of an “all the above” approach to affordable housing.

    These massive developments would not be possible without all the public taxpayer dollars which everyone contributes to. They are profiting directly off publicly funded transit and adding strain to municipal services. With that fact in mind, I believe developers of these massive buildings should be required to create reasonable community benefits (in proportion to project scope) in addition to simply adding to the tax base once completed. It’s called smart growth, public-private partnerships, etc. and I’m not sure why some are so quick to discount how important and completely reasonable these benefits are, as if it’s socialist nonsense.

    Did developers create the whole problem? Of course not and I never said this would solve the problem by itself. However did renters create the situation we are in of sky-high rents where housing costs are a giant burden for the majority of people (including millions who work their a**es off every day)? No. I would love for there to be a bunch of 70-, 80- & 90-story buildings replacing vacant lots all over JC, but don’t try to tell me these developers are barely scraping by and can’t afford to make a slightly lower profit on a handful of units per project to help the community.

    Seriously, why do you think they should be allowed to renege on an agreement with the community to provide integrated affordable housing? 5% is ridiculous to be arguing over, as if that’s going to cause this or any other downtown project to be unprofitable. It’s about building an overall stronger community, and having huge districts with no one making <$100,000 is not economically healthy or morally right. It's not what JC is about as an inclusive community, and I'm grateful for city leadership that has a positive vision of what's possible for the greater good (e.g. Bayfront w/8000+ units at 35% affordable) rather than stuck in old ways of thinking about 21st Century problems.

  10. @TH- The thing is no one is being economically segregated. They may not live in a shiny new buildings but they will still live in JC proper which, along with the NYC Metro area in general, really no longer has anything like the slums and ghettos of the 1970s. But the issue for me is less the developer than the dysfunctional government which makes the zoning regulations and administers the tax dollars. I concur in that old ways of thinking have not worked and will not work. For that I do have a solution : completely abolish the government and it’s useless bureaucrats. Let machines make the decisions instead. Not a fantasy. I’m convinced super computers and artificial intelligence are the way forward. Nothing is worse than a human being with power and money telling other human beings what to do.

  11. Maybe some people here need to remember that the “poor” the affordable housing is for are the cashiers, clerical workers, uber drivers, and generally every person who serves your needs. They probably don’t want to live next to people who feel the way you do about them either. I know I wouldn’t want to. The problem is neighborhoods are being demolished and replaced with luxury buildings we can’t hope to afford, but hey, that’s where the money is. Remember that $13 drink someone mentioned may be more than some people earn an hour with no benefits. Luxury is not necessary, but decent and affordable would be great. Working people aren’t looking for a handout, just something they can afford.

  12. The Real Estate shady mafia destroyed affordable living and many families in Jersey City. Every mayor supported this BS and now we can’t even cross a street, shop without a hassle or find a parking spot. GTFOH!

  13. See what I mean, look at these emotional responses but when you dissect them they’re actually not saying anything of substance. Hence why I say it cheapens the process, since it’s not productive or realistic.

    @Ainsel said “ The problem is neighborhoods are being demolished and replaced with luxury buildings we can’t hope to afford”. Demolished is a very emotionally charged work. Technically neighborhoods are being rebuilt after being demolished in the mid 20th century. Don’t forget the history of JC from farmlands, to wealth in late 19th century to economic collapse and downfall in the 20th century. Now it’s the rebuilt phase in 21st century.

    @Josh said “ The Real Estate shady mafia destroyed affordable living and many families in Jersey City“. This is just a false and misleading statement. What Josh is referring to as affordable living was mainly during the economic collapse when JC was a disaster. High crime, low tax revenue, low quality of life, abandoned lots and building. So of course with all that comes low rent and “affordable living”.

    But as NYC boroughs began to flourish the opportunity came for JC to make a comeback and the government started giving developers incentives to come across the river (tax abatements). As more interest grew, more business came up, new residents which all led to more tax revenues and more jobs.

    So what Josh refers to as developers destroying neighborhoods is his selfish, emotional response to the city growing for the better while he hasn’t been able to do the same in his life. So he would selfishly rather see the city stay in a depressed state so his rent would stay low.

  14. @DazedandConfused: your personal attacks only prove, that you either work for the developer, mayor’s office or you’re in real eastate or construction business. I’ve been happily living in JC for 25 years and I was very happy here until people like you showed up and destroyed this quiet and family oriented town. Once again, GTFOH, we don’t need you here, if you think, that high rents are good, there’s nothing to talk about.

  15. @DazedandConfused I love how you call out “emotional responses” of others but conveniently did not respond to ANY of the substance in my reply above about the importance of requiring these affordable units to make sure the “tale of 2 cities” in JC doesn’t get any worse.

    I actually agree with you that to say neighborhoods are being “demolished” is pretty misleading and IMO the wrong focus. For the most part even large-scale development in JC tends to replace either vacant or condemned land/buildings, which is a good thing to grow the tax base and separate from the displacement issues. I also agree that the “good old days” when houses and land were affordable in JC were a direct result of long-term urban decay rather than actual broad-based good times for residents.

    However some people here are talking about poor people (aka “fellow human beings”) as if they deserve their circumstances and as if developers/corporate America at large owe us average citizens nothing. That is fundamentally wrong and yes developers of these massive profitable projects should be forced by law to provide community benefits, including integrated/onsite affordable units. It’s not a handout, it’s simply the reality of the housing crisis that there are not nearly enough units that working people can actually afford. We need to do something about that.

    If you don’t view poor people as dignified and worthy of respect then there’s not much more to say, but developers are not the victims here and it is completely reasonable to require them to provide these units for the community.

  16. This is what happens when you don’t pay attention to the adoption of City ordinance and legislation vs the good mayor’s intentions.

  17. I’m just responding to the article. Of course I agree developments need to include community giveback and affordable housing. This isn’t saying the developer isn’t going to provide anything. It’s providing a new 36,000 sq ft elementary school for $1 plus 5% affordable housing. The request is to move the 5% affordable housing to another property within a mile since Mack Cali owns numerous high rises in the area. They are offering to increase from 37 affordable units to 40 and increase the terms from 20 to 30 years. I think there needs to be more details provided…like exactly where and when? Those are fair questions that would be a productive discussion. Maybe negotiate to say 45 affordable units or if you can’t provide any more affordable units, build a new park…or fix more streets… or donate money to local cause or a food drive or a local shelter.

    So what else would you think they should be providing to make it a fair deal but still profitable enough for them to build during a pandemic while the economy is so uncertain? Mack Cali actually was losing money which is while the CEO got canned. He was terrible. But now they have a new management team that looks more promising. But obviously they have to navigate the new world and also reevaluate all the deals that the old CEO did. My guess is they are amending to deal with the new challenges/risk Covid is unearthing.

    Ultimately it’s up to the city to figure out how much they demand from developers but that’s also a balancing act since if you push developers too much, they’ll go to the next town that gives a better deal. The amount of tax revenue from real estate and the new residents who will pay income tax, sales tax, and just create an environment that allows small businesses to flourish.

    So yeah mayors play nice with developers since you don’t slap the hand that feeds you. That’s why I say these silly comments cheapen the process. That’s why the same old “I lived here 20 yrs and we don’t want your type here” argument is silly and emotionally fueled. It’s unproductive and doesn’t add any value or provide a solution. Go back and read the comments against this and tell me which one provided any reasonable solution?

  18. @DazedandConfused: Here’s a solution for you: enough of those developments, build a good school, decent supermarket, hospital, park or transportation hub. There are too many people here, apartment prices are ridiculous. Do something for the city we love and all those people you’ve pushed out over the years.

  19. End the idiotic WAR ON DRUGS. That’s billions of wasted tax dollars. Possession of anything should not be a crime. Demand better governance. End tax breaks for organized religion. Believe in a god complex if you want. Tax $$$ shouldn’t subsidize that nonsense. Deport illegal aliens. If their country of origin wants to pay for their upkeep, fine, they can stay.

    Spend the money saved on education and housing. Weed tax would be a good start. House the very poor in shipping containers. Build Mitchell- Lama type housing for the middle class.
    It allows one to buy or rent a co-op a low price. Thing is if you move or drop dead you can only sell for a cost living increase insuring inexpensive housing for the next person.

  20. So Dazed thinks “Demolished is a very emotionally charged work. Technically neighborhoods are being rebuilt after being demolished in the mid 20th century.” How interesting. I believe that when someone wants to physically remove a structure from a property and they apply to the city to do so, they request a “demolition permit.” Is “demolished” less “emotionally charged” under those conditions? As for the demolition in the mid-twentieth century, I would suggest to you that people have not been living in tent covered fields all this time and some lived in the products of that “demolition” which was also know as urban renewal, and paying taxes all along to a woefullly mismanaged city to keep it afloat. So yes, demolition is taking place, whether you call it that or something else.

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