HLATKY: Rents Are Too High For Poor To Afford. “But Let Us Remove Our Rosy Glasses And Survey The Reality Of The City”

If you have any inclination to support essential workers or black lives after living through the pandemic, the election, and the racial justice reckoning of 2020, support the Rent Stabilization Petition in Asbury Park.

The Petition for Rent Stabilization was signed by over 700 residents. A public hearing is scheduled for December 22. If city council doesn’t back the petition, the issue will go to a special election that will cost the city thousands of dollars. The developers and landlords of the Asbury are busy working their political and PR contacts. Many well-meaning supporters of the “renaissance” of Asbury Park see the issue as potentially destabilizing the cozy alliances that keep this small progressive city humming.

But let us remove our rosy glasses and survey the reality of the city. Before the pandemic, Asbury Park had a thriving downtown and waterfront, touted everywhere from Vogue to the NY Times. Local Monmouth County residents recall a not-so-distant past when “no one would go to Asbury after dark.” Yet pre-Covid, revelers filled the streets from morning to the wee hours of the night.

But long-time residents and close observers of the city know that Asbury is deeply segregated and highly gentrified. There are two Asburys, and they are divided by literal train tracks. Lest this narrative seem too far-fetched, let’s turn to the statistics.

Asbury Park has a 30.4% poverty rate, meaning 1 out of every 3 people living here makes less than $26,000/year. The average income in Asbury Park, $41,000/year, is half of the average NJ resident. In the city that many tout as the pride of our area, a third of residents are struggling for food, housing, healthcare, and other basic needs.

Asbury is a huge market for rentals: only 15% of households in Asbury Park are owner-occupied. Despite the income inequality and the alarming rate of poverty, the fair market rate for Asbury Park rents is about 20% higher than the rest of the state. Asbury’s poor cannot afford to rent an apartment in Asbury Park. What it means for them is displacement and homelessness.

We might want to tell ourselves that this is simply the market at work, but it is by design that rents are too high for Asbury’s poor to afford. It’s called gentrification. While there are a ton of young professionals and summer vacationers flooding into the city, it is imperative we don’t lose sight of our city’s most vulnerable.

What we have right now in Asbury Park is the opportunity to make a real difference for families. Rather than taking the side of the landlord concerned about his profit margin and his mortgages, we have the opportunity to stand up for the family trying to make rent. We can give families a fighting chance to stay in Asbury Park. We can slow the gentrification of this city.

Beware the landlord asking for special consideration while millions of families are facing eviction because the worst economic crisis we’ve faced in 100 years has compounded their already tenuous financial position. Beware the narrative of the “Asbury Renaissance.” It was a renaissance for few, not all. Call city council and let them know that Asbury does not belong to developers and landlords. Let them know you stand with the people of Asbury Park.

Dallas Hlatky


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