MontClairVoyant: Even an Iguana Would Want a Better Lackawanna

15
622

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Last week, you mentioned that A Better Lackawanna (ABL) will hold a musical fundraiser from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, November 16, at Montclair Brewery and also have a presence at that day’s Farmers Market. Anything to add?

Sincerely,
Oscar de la Eventa

Walnut Street is the place to be on the 16th, unless your kids have a soccer game or play on a Tiddlywinks travel team.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
ABL filed suit over the flawed Lackawanna Plaza redo approved by the Planning Board. Why haven’t the PB or Township Council been the ones to take legal action against developer overreach and minimal developer community-mindedness?

Sincerely,
No Attorney Journey

Bwahaha! Montclair officials confrontational with their builder buds? Dream on! The only legal action you’re likely to see between them would be watching “Judge Judy” together.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Thank goodness then for ABL and its 200-plus plaintiffs. Heck, doesn’t the Lackawanna plan have problems such as ruining some historic elements of the former train station and blowing the chance of creating an amazing gateway site?

Sincerely,
Lost Opportunity Knocks

It does. Where are the visionaries amid Montclair’s bigwigs? Did Trump cut off immigration from the country of Vision? Where IS the country of Vision? Better put on my glasses…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Why did Montclair High students come up with better Lackawanna plans than the developers did?

Sincerely,
Mountie Bounty

Developers are so busy counting their lavish profits there’s little time left to nicely design projects. And every time they amass five $20 bills with Andrew Jackson on them, they’re also busy singing Jackson 5 songs.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman was supposed to soon replace Jackson on the $20 bill until the Trump administration disgustingly nixed that. Would it help for Trump to see the superb “Harriet” movie?

Sincerely,
Racists Then and Now

He’s not interested, even though April Force One could land on Route 3 near Clifton Commons. Just don’t expect Air Force Three to land on Route 1.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
There’s a theory that constructing many new rentals in a town can slow rent hikes in older apartment buildings because there are more units on the market. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
Plethora Place

Even though downtown Montclair is being flooded with pricey units (including future Lackawanna ones), some steep rent hikes in older buildings continue. So don’t discount landlord greed, though “discount” seems an odd word in that context.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Would you like to see some rent stabilization or rent control of the kind the Tenants Organization of Montclair is seeking?

Sincerely,
The Lease They Can Do

Not a bad idea if our town is to remain economically diverse. I worry that steep rent hikes may lead to more corporate CEOs and Wall Street execs becoming Montclair residents — meaning a big influx of potential criminals.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Gasp! Are you calling corporate CEOs and Wall Street execs crooks?

Sincerely,
How Suite It Is

Yup, of the white-collar variety. Not all of them, but some. Balzac has been paraphrased as saying: “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” That novelist drank lots of coffee, so he knew things…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
When he was in Montclair, did Balzac imbibe at a Starbucks or Java Love?

Sincerely,
Cup Cup and Away

Um…he lived in 19th-century France, so you must be thinking of Dunkin’ Croissants.

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

Newsletter, Monthly Events, Special Features, Breaking News and More:

Get once-daily headlines, a monthly events calendar, and occasional special features and breaking news in your inbox.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Quite the phenomenon we are witnessing over Montclair’s affordability.

    Supposedly, and subject to some quibbling, about half of all housing units in Montclair are rentals. The issue of the day is the need for rent control.

    The purpose of rent control is to retain affordable (<lowercase) housing. The program would create municipal price controls on rent increases for about 90% of Montclair’s rental units

    Over the last decade , Montclair voters, including renters, and property owners have consistently supported a high-growth development strategy predominated on adding new housing. To remind those who don’t follow closely, our redevelopment strategy argument is to help keep living here affordable by adding this new housing. Redevelopment would “unlock” the inherent, unrealized value offered in our urban core. Further, this development strategy was a lynchpin in realizing our low-income housing commitment. Meaningful Affordable Housing (AH) relies on development of new housing. A very diverse majority of supporters.

    The development has been ‘successful’ in rapidly adding new housing, mostly fair-market and 10-20% low-income. Note, low-income, Affordable Housing is already both subsidized and rent controlled. We have “unlocked” the value around downtown Montclair and placed it on par with the dramatic price increases we have seen in single-family homes.

    We are seeing a phenomenon where Montclair, with all its new development, is becoming less affordable to current residents – especially the renters. The new residents, and their wallets, obviously can accept the market prices. The dislocation is being felt by those who are used to the old prices. Surprising?

    Clearly, none of us saw this coming! Who would know that when you vote to put a heavy thumb on redevelopment there might be price increases? We all thought adding new housing would stabilize existing housing prices while increasing the tax base. Plus, we didn’t see any real impact from squeezing all the added density in downtown. Actually, the merchants and landlords were clamoring for this.

    Now a little bump has arisen and the fix du jour is place rent controls on half of Montclair’s housing units. An alternative offered is to go further and add even more housing supply/density to relieve the upward pricing pressure. After all, we’re reminded Montclair is not even close to its historic,1970 population peak.

    Montclair has been a charter member of the Smart Growth advocacy. Maybe going forward we can be a little discerning when we hear the idealized term Smart Growth. Maybe we should stop and ask what this term actually means; do we grasp all of its precepts and applications? Or, maybe, let’s not bother as I seriously doubt we will be hearing this term much during the upcoming municipal election campaign. What we will hear is candidates appealing to the 50% who are renters. Not particularly active voters historically, but certainly vocal and organized for this cycle. Smart Growth.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Frank! Many good, interesting points. But I disagree, to a degree, with some of what you said.

    I feel Montclair’s big players have two major goals with all the new development: developers want more profits, and town officials want more ratables. Much-needed additional affordable housing is a minor goal for them, at best. And while the slowing down of rent hikes in older housing is a possible byproduct of many new units coming to town, I don’t think that’s a major goal of the big players. That byproduct doesn’t seem to be happening yet (if it ever will), as some landlords of some older rentals are asking for steep increases.

    You wrote: “Over the last decade, Montclair voters, including renters, and property owners have consistently supported a high-growth development strategy predominated on adding new housing.” I would amend that to SOME people supporting that. Many don’t, partly because too many of the new units are/will be quite expensive (“market rates” and higher), and partly because of the new construction in most cases adding lots of density, as you alluded to.

    “Montclair is not even close to its historic, 1970 population peak” — that might be, but families were bigger then and thus more people lived in fewer households than would be the case today.

  3. You have to love Montclairions. They always have a babayka ( a bogeyman), e.g. big developers, landlords, town officials. We have them as our excuse to forsake civic accountability and retain our right to complain. Teflon coated citizenry. Mostly of the blue-bent persuasion.

    We voted twice for a council that had, as part of their primary plank, reducing the tax burden. They were going to do it by increasing ratables and controlling spending. Increasing ratables simply means development. In their case specifically – redevelopment. A lot!. Redevelopment is government assisted development.

    On the spending side, they actually have not done all that great. Yes, our debt is down and our credit score is up – but credit score doesn’t matter if you’re not spending. And we have been spending…at an average clip of 3+% annually. This simply means that to keep the good times rolling we must continue to develop (increase ratables) at least at an equivalent rate. It’s much the same if we got a 3% raise every year. Yes, we could save some, but we are going to spend the bulk of it. As long as we get those 3% raises, life is good, e.g. the teachers got a 3% raise. Most older corporate warriors haven’t seen a 3% raise in a while. I think many of the owner-operated small businesses here would be very happy to see a 3% raise. Most hourly employees have seen their net adjusted income remain flat, if not lower.

    So, it is someone else’s fault. Voting actually means very little. People voted for development when they voted for this council. Now older renters are saying they lost and want satisfaction. Their answer is to enact ordinances to dampen increases to ratables. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    That was my point. Maybe a little more thought and questioning of candidates should be done before you select your candidates. Or not. I’m fairly confident that rent control will not pass even when 50% of the housing is rentals.

    And on a related tangent, should 50% of Montclair’s housing be rentals? Historically, the peak never exceeded 40%. Now it has spiked to 50%

  4. I hear you, Frank. The mayor and the rest of the current Township Council were elected and reelected. But not everyone voted for them, there was only one contested race in 2016 (leaving voters with little choice), and a number of people wanted some quality development (for the ratables) but not THIS much not-that-high-quality development.

    As for rentals, I guess 50% is the new 40%…

  5. Dave,
    District 6 is the largest district, a 1/3rd larger than any other in the 3rd Ward. It has many apartment dwellers, including 39-41 N. Fullerton, and is well represented among the TOOM tenant’s group membership. In the 2012 election, just 13% bothered to vote. The lowest turnout anywhere in Montclair.

    Of this little turnout, 81% voted for the Jackson slate. While W3/D6 had the worst turnout, the districts along the downtown Bloomfield corridor were all much below the Township median. Similarly, these districts collectively voted in the 70+% range for the Jackson slate with its “expand the ratables” that specifically targeted their neighborhoods for redevelopment.

    So, redevelopment is not working out so well for them. As I said, most didn’t participate and most of those that did were of the view redevelopment would be to their benefit. Ok, they got that wrong. Now they think they have it right with rent control for the entire town. They think the town should further subsidize renting in the “vibrant, walkable, downtown”. We also are building a 100 new public parking spaces so residents can have affordable overnight parking.

    I think a fast approaching discussion will be the limits on municipal government managing private property markets and specifically the level of direct/indirect spending on the downtown corridor.

    To cast this as a renter’s diversity argument is wrong. This is a simple constituent wallet issue…and most of the constituents affected didn’t vote.

  6. Frank, its very convenient of your to blame Montclair’s alleged overdevelopment for the decreasing rental “affordability”. This flies in the face of economics and common sense. The greater the supply of rental units, at a constant demand would translate to lower rental rates. You constantly assert that recent developments have actually made Montclair a less desirable place to live. In either case, the increased supply of rental housing units will not result in increased price pressure unless the new development has actually made Montclair a more desireable place to live. And to carry your assertions to their logical conclusion, less development, would lead to greater deisreability, unchanged rental supply, and even greater resulting rents.

  7. Thank you for those statistics, Frank. A 13% voter turnout in that neighborhood is depressing. I feel renters should vote as much as homeowners vote — renters obviously have a huge stake in the town, too. (I’ve been both a Montclair homeowner (1993-2014) and a Montclair renter (2014-present) and it didn’t affect my voting participation one iota.)

    As for why so many voted for the mayor, people support candidates for different reasons. Some may have liked him for reasons other than his development bent and/or may have (despite possible development misgivings) liked him somewhat better than his 2012 opponents.

  8. Thank you for the comment, seriously!

    You wrote: “The greater the supply of rental units, at a constant demand would translate to lower rental rates.” That makes sense, and I’d like to believe it, but it doesn’t seem to have happened in Montclair — at least yet. Perhaps it needs more time to play out, but some tenants are being overcharged in the meantime.

  9. Seriously, Montclair is a more desirable place in many important respects. And demand is a measure of desirability. I don’t think you were suggesting we could keep demand constant, so the long-term model you propose is to keep affordable rental demand below affordable rental supply? I would think the challenge would be how Montclair determines and creates a sufficient level of excess supply. I’m probably over-thinking this, but…do you see any correlation between the robust rate of redevelopment around Montclair Center and the sudden spike in rental rates? Something in my very dated economics background is nagging at me that the increasing price of land is an important factor. After all, land speculation has shown to be associated with redevelopment. There are some other nagging, ticky-tacky things I have a difficult time letting go of, but I’m open to learning new concept and applications.

  10. I agree that the meaning of “overcharged” can be hard to pin down. One definition of it is when tenants are paying a certain amount they can (hopefully) handle and then suddenly the landlord raises the rent by quite a bit (much more than inflation).

    “…the increasing price of land” — hmm, I think you have something there, Frank.

  11. That is the definition of rent control. As I understand their (TOOM) platform, they are seeking rent stabilization. Generally, the former runs with the tenant and the latter runs with the land. They are similar in the near-term in that they both start with below-market rental situations that target working class and fixed-income groups quantified by average regional rent levels for their income band. Rent control units typically transition at the end of their terms to rent stabilized units. Rent stabilization is typically not used for multi-family houses. Rent stabilization programs are a form of subsidized housing and without State law, the municipality subsidizes landlords with tax incentives and/or muni fee reductions. It is no small, casual decision to implement these programs. There are many related economic considerations and the Law of Unintended Consequences still applies.

    Bottomline is we should go into any such program with our eyes wide open as to the anticipated benefits and potential drawbacks…and likely to stumble many times before we get it down…like our redevelopment efforts.

  12. Thank you, Frank, for explaining some of the similarities and differences between rent control and rent stabilization!

    I agree that enacting one or the other is a big step. If Montclair landlords don’t want rent control or rent stabilization (and of course they don’t), they’re welcome to not get TOO greedy with high rents and steep rent hikes. 🙂

Leave a Reply