Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA), a group whose mission is “to assure that the City of Hoboken considers the interests of property owners as laws and administrative policies are developed,” has its sights set on gutting rent control in Hoboken, and it seems it is willing to go to almost any lengths to achieve its objectives.
At the moment, the group has city officials tied up in lawsuits so that if you try to speak to your council member about rent control, an issue that will determine whether thousands of longtime Hoboken residents can afford to remain in Hoboken, they will likely tell you that they cannot even discuss the issue. That is what happened when I tried to discuss it with my councilman, Peter Cunningham.
There seems to be something inherently corrupt about a special interest group being able to use lawsuits to force city lawmakers to stand paralyzed while the group forces its will on the city. It is the sworn duty of the public officials to protect the population against being run over roughshod by powerful interest groups. But in this case, the MSTA has the council members bound and gagged so they can’t even talk about it.
MSTA put forth an initiative that will probably appear on the ballot in November that will further weaken rent control. Last year the City Council passed a measure that weakened it in several ways, and when tenant groups mounted a campaign to subject the law to a referendum, MSTA managed to go to court to get the wording changed on the ballot at the last minute so that it confused many voters who ended up voting for what they had wanted to defeat. If you wanted to strike down the new law that weakened rent control, you had to vote “yes.”
Emboldened by that success, the MSTA is now trying to further weaken rent control with its new initiative. Apparently the people who run MSTA have succeeded in using the same tactics to gut rent control in other communities. According to the tenant group Hoboken Fair Housing, they have “gone from town to town in New Jersey destroying rent control.” (See www.hobokenfairhousing.com.)
Most of the thousands who are now protected by rent control have no idea that their housing protection is now under threat. And if city officials can’t even talk about it, it seems unlikely the word will get out sufficiently for residents to know what is happening and how to vote to protect themselves.
Rent control not only protects tenants from price gouging in the basic necessity of housing, it also protects the community from the constant social upheaval caused by having its citizens’ homes under the whim of the boom-and-bust cycles of market swings. This is not just about the interests of one group, but about protecting the city against social chaos. At this point the most important thing is for residents to learn what they can do to protect themselves and vote down the new initiative.