Given continued volatility in our local rental housing market, we should support some rent regulation today to protect our township’s character. However, no one should support using undemocratic means to engineer and maintain any agreed tenant protections, that now appear needed.
On this issue, our Township Council and Administration have acted poorly and worse, even look authoritarian. Montclair now appears to be operating no differently than far-right officials in states that try to win elections using technical voter suppression — rather than the righteousness of their candidates, or the policy positions they espouse.
Once the last Council passed an ordinance creating a rent control law here, our next Council’s job was to ensure open debate and democracy prevail. Not just defend their predecessor’s vote. That means if some residents wanted to oppose the ordinance as the system provides, they shouldn’t be prevented. Not legally inhibited from exercising their rights, just because a new Council and supporters don’t agree.
Ensuring individual rights, means a fair public process for all. Even those you don’t agree with. Even wealthier landlords you think are only selfishly concerned about their profits. Regardless, it still doesn’t substantiate trying to win and get over — using Chad-like throwing out of just partially completed addresses filled in on-line, or using inexact electronic v. paper signature matches during COVID. Technical petition corrections normally made at your front door when signatures get collected. Especially, if the person’s intent was to clearly sign and support a referendum vote.
It doesn’t matter that the moral high ground behind the Township’s petition rejections is to protect our community’s racial and economic character. That’s a social policy goal many of us share. It is not a legal right — like voter referendums. And it still does not excuse today’s obvious official obstructionism.
When a judge ruled suing Petitioners had a legal right to use our resident contact information — given COVID signature collection impacts, Montclair never should have sent out an e-mail blast also lobbying support for rent control then. Worse, they directly dissed the Petitioner’s now court empowered authority to obtain ballot support. The town directly lobbied against their sought after referendum – but using our resident contact communication system.
Wrong. This just proved the Petitioner’s case. That use of resident contact information was in fact, also political for the Township. That it was not just for official alerts and municipal updates. Unfortunately, as a result, others may now try to use the same information.
Bottom line: if the new Council is so sure the last Council’s decision and equities were right, there should be no worry a majority here won’t stand up behind their new rent control law. Instead, fears this ordinance will be rejected again (as has happened three times before), are now very transparent.
Again, in my opinion, there should be some reasonable short-term rent regulation to smooth out the market, given current instability. The last Council was even late to the table to act. We should have moved sooner when rental pricing became too infused with speculation. When rents were no longer set just reacting to supply and demand but also expectation — given multiple, large apartment builds coming. And when too many people’s lives then became disrupted from the resulting rental spikes.
Regardless, using undemocratic tactics to support market intervention is unfitting for a progressive town like Montclair, given this clearly debatable, controversial social policy issue. The town that loudly proclaims it supports “the right to vote by all — regardless of outcome.
That’s not showing today. Today, it appears our local government and some housing advocates stand behind “the right to vote” – only when they’re 100% sure people agree with them.
Martin Schwartz was former Mayor Robert Jackson’s personal designee to the Township Planning Board and the 2012 Council’s appointee to the Township Environmental Commission.