Jersey City Council introduces new inclusionary zoning ordinance

The Jersey City Council passed the first reading of the new inclusionary zoning ordinance at Monday night's meeting. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Jersey City Council has introduced a new inclusionary zoning ordinance that would provide 10 to 15 percent of affordable housing in new developments based on income census tracts on where it’s created, and has no opt-outs for developers to avoid doing so. The ordinance was proposed earlier this month by Jersey City and the Fair Share Housing Center.

The council voted 8-0-1 for the ordinance, with Councilman Rolando Lavarro abstaining because he wants to get feedback from activists and community members about it.

The new IZO was worked on between Jersey City and the Fair Share Housing Center after the latter sued the city last year over a previously passed IZO that contained loopholes for developers to avoid creating affordable housing. It was eventually overturned by a Hudson County Superior Court judge earlier this year.

Councilman Lavarro (pictured center-right) called the new ordinance an improvement, but had some critiques about it such as upping the tier two percentage. Photo by Mark Koosau.

During the November 29 meeting, Lavarro, who has been an advocate for affordable housing, echoed his earlier comments about the IZO, calling it an improvement over the previous one, and said that it came closer to some of the amendments he had proposed at the time.

But he did share some of his criticisms of it, such as the second tier of the IZO that sets aside 15 percent of affordable housing in upper income census tracts such as downtown Jersey City.

“In those more affluent neighborhoods and communities, we could be able to sustain a higher percentage of onsite affordable units to 20 percent as are done throughout other jurisdictions,” he said.

One of his other critiques is that while the upzoning for state tax incentives, which stipulates that developers that get tax credits from Jersey City have to create 15 percent of housing, is good, he believes that it will not likely happen.

“Why do I say that? I think there’s precedent for that, that giving developers the option to use this carrot to try to incentivize them hasn’t actually worked,“ he said. “We know that even though there were tax incentives to build on-site affordable housing, it didn’t actually result in much affordable housing, much to my dismay.”

He concluded his comments following his vote to abstain saying that he’ll look to make a final vote on the IZO in the second reading, which would be his last chance to have his say in the city government after he lost reelection for the City Council this year.

During the public hearing segment of the meeting, Eleana Little, a Hudson County Democratic committee person, said her biggest concern about the previous IZO was the loopholes such as the council being able to waive the ordinances or for developers to provide community benefits instead of affordable housing, and commended their removal from the new ordinance.

Former at-Large City Council candidate June Jones (pictured center-left) said that the new ordinance was a good start. Photo by Mark Koosau

“While this ordinance before us today isn’t perfect, it is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Little, who ran with the backing of the Progressive Democrats of Hudson County this year. “I would urge the council to plan to pass this ordinance and also be open to amendments to strengthen it.”

June Jones, a former at-Large City Council candidate who unsuccessfully ran this year, also agreed with Little on the IZO.

“It is not the best, but it certainly is a good start,” she said during public comments. ‘I would certainly agree with a comment that Councilman Lavarro made in considering bumping up the tier two percentage. When all is evaluated to be bumped, they all should be equally.”

The inclusionary zoning ordinance now goes to a second reading for final passage.

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