In response to a successful petition to present a rent control ordinance to the Asbury Park City Council for its adoption or, failing that, to voters for their approval in a referendum early next year, a landlords’ group has been formed in the Shore resort city to oppose the measure.
“We recognize that they have valid concerns, and we share a lot of those concerns,” said Peter Siegel, an organizer of the Asbury Park Property Owners’ Coalition, which includes about 50 landlords with 1,300 rental units. “But in fact, it will not help one existing tenant in Asbury Park; it will increase taxes for single family and condominium home owners; and it will chill property renovations and compromise maintenance.”
The non-profit Asbury Park Affordable Housing Coalition disagrees, insisting that the rediscovery of Asbury Park as a beach resort an hour from Manhattan threatens to price out the longtime, racially and culturally diverse residents who were born there or made it their home long before wealthier weekenders and other new arrivals began driving up property values and rents.
Under state initiative and referendum law, the affordable housing coalition gathered 700 signatures on a petition demanding that the City Council adopt an affordable housing ordinance pegging increases to inflation, or schedule a special election in February or March to let voters decide on the measure.
The petition was certified by the city clerk on Dec. 3, and an initial public hearing on the proposed ordinance was held six days later, when the document was read into the record. The council’s next meeting is on Dec. 22, when the 5-member ruling body can vote to adopt the ordinance, or reject it and schedule the referendum, said Mayor John Moor.
The move to create a rent-control ordinance in Asbury Park comes amid a coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic downturn that has prompted federal, state and local officials to protect tenants by imposing moratoriums on evictions. In Jersey City, one of about 100 New Jersey municipalities with a rent control ordinance, city officials imposed a moratorium on all rent increases, including those that would have been permitted under the ordinance.
The key provision of the Asbury Park measure would limit rent increases following the expiration of most leases to the equivalent of the rate of inflation over the past 15 months, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, up to a maximum of 4%.
The ordinance would also create a local review board to which landlords could appeal the limits on increases, though Siegel objected to the 7-member board’s proscribed make-up of four tenants’ representatives and three for landlords as a built-in majority for renters. He also objected to the ordinance’s prohibition on vacancy decontrol, that is, the ability of a landlord to raise an apartment’s rent to any level once it becomes vacant.
The ordinance was drafted with input from the Fair Share Housing Center, a non-profit law firm that has been a key player in the creation of affordable housing around the state through litigation or settlements with municipalities.
Moor declined to state his position on the ordinance as submitted, and said it was still being reviewed by city officials, who have sent the proponents a list of questions.
But the mayor did say he was hopeful that the council, the affordable housing coalition and the property owners’ group could negotiate a compromise acceptable to all three parties. Moor added that a provision of the initiation and referendum law gives the ruling body 20 days to act on the proposed measure, meaning a special meeting to act on the ordinance could be scheduled through Dec. 29, if needed.
“I think the best thing to do is for everybody to get together and try to work this out,” said Moor, whose sentiments were echoed by Siegel on Tuesday night. Tracy Rogers, an Asbury Park resident and member of the affordable housing coalition, said his group was also open to compromise.
But Rogers noted that there were already provisions in the ordinance, as well as state rent control law, intended to balance the needs of tenants and landlords, and to avoid discouraging construction of new rental housing. For example, the ordinance would exempt from rent control on any two- or three-unit rental property also occupied by the landlord. And a 1987 state law, he and Moor noted, already exempts new apartments from rent control for 30 years.
Rent control is a particularly relevant issue in Asbury Park, where rental housing makes up 77.6% of all occupied dwellings, an extraordinarily high figure that is double the statewide share, with implications for the wealth gap between its longtime, largely Black population and its new breed of homebuyers, some of them investors, some looking for a weekend hideaway.
Despite its real estate boom, Asbury Park’s average rent was still 7.6% lower than the statewide figure in 2019 — $1,229 a month for the city compared to $1,331 for all of New Jersey — according Census data. That said, the city’s annual median household income of $47,841 last year was 42% lower than the state figure, meaning rent gobbles up a much bigger share of Asbury Park residents’ income than it does for New Jersreyans overall.
And that is why proponents say Asbury Park needs rent control, a protection against steep or arbitrary rent hikes has helped tenants stay in their apartments elsewhere. “Rent control works,” said Rogers. “We have continuously had these problems and now the landlords are attacking us for trying to put up a solution.”