Letter to the Editor: Support for Reasonable Rent Control

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.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Why don’t people look at the big picture numbers? They don’t even ask. It is not about numbers. It’s only about perception and appearances.

    It’s like going out for a nice diner to be seen. Then have the waitperson run your credit card, add whatever tip they think best and not tell you what the bill was. You go home and talk about the experience. The Council does this all on a regular basis. When was the last time a Council member explained the financial reconciliation (e.g. net profit) of a redevelopment project? A Senior Center? A park renovation in the middle of a pandemic? Truth be told, none of them have a head for numbers. That is unfortunate.

    Anyway, MPOA had to get 1,020 signatures (=15% of the 6,800 voters in 2019 election).
    This rent control ordinance only applies to 1,400 rental units (out of +/- 6,500 total rental units).
    Montclair has, +/- 500, 15,000 total housing units (single family, condos, rentals, etc.)

    Of those 1,400 rental units under this rent control, do you want to guess the demographics? Or, can we just assume these 1,400 renters offer the much needed diversity the other housing units can’t provide?

  2. We could start with the Marlboro Inn development and knockdown. It use to provide $50,000 in commercial tax revenue. However now, with at least two kids in each house and 10 houses on that site, it’s reportedly a net tax loss.

    Councilor Robin Schlager is the last active official who supported the knock down project then by refusing to designate the Inn a historic property and keep it standing. Despite a unanimous vote of the HPC back then. If the Inn had survived and was sold to any of those who wanted to renovate it and run it better, it would likely be producing even more tax revenue today.

    Yes, this same lack of detailed economic cost-benefit thinking exists now. For rent regulation, new builds, parking decks etc….

  3. OK, the Marlboro Inn thing was back in 2004. It was a building that was allowed to go into disrepair…for years. More importantly, all the neighbors have sold out at a nice premium and the new property owners nearby bought knew Crisco Cost was their neighborhood anchor. Shock – commercial replaced by housing in suburbia. Yes, we are still suburbia regardless of what the New Yorkers say.

    Frankly, the whole Watchung historic thing is wacked. The township historic district, the totally separate State district, the fact that a historic Distric could actually (unbelievably) include house on Grove St. Seriously, who buys historic on Grove St?

    My point is that us long-time residents have our various opinions about how Montclair has changed for the worse or the better. And what has not changed is the duplicity, the back rubs to the special interest (including the clergy), and the general intellect of many on the Council.

    Personally, I think Bob B runs this Council and a few others. Good for him.

    PS: Montclair Local should have, in their good article 2 weeks ago, tied in the high number of water main breaks to the Mayor Jackson’s 6/23/2020 comments at the 1:27 mark. ER, it was there for the taking.

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