MontClairVoyant: Rent Control Gets a New Lease on Life

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
A Superior Court judge last Friday struck down the Montclair Property Owners Association’s attempt to kill the rent control measure passed by the Township Council last April. Your reaction?

Sincerely,
A. Partments

Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! That’s one “Yay” for each of the nine months the MPOA fought the measure. Enough time to give birth…to a strong dislike of the group’s lavishly funded tactics.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The MPOA — which didn’t get enough valid signatures for a referendum to overturn rent control — fought the Council’s imperfect-but-welcome measure even though it allows fair rent increases, just not unreasonable hikes. Comment?

Sincerely,
Gouging in a Winter Wonderland

No hike in Mills Reservation is unreasonable with the right shoes and weather. But I know what you mean, and I hope the MPOA “takes a hike” and goes away.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Unlikely. Isn’t an appeal of the court’s January 15 decision reportedly planned?

Sincerely,
Lawyers in Love

The MPOA — whose crying-financial-distress leaders include a major developer with a multimillion-dollar household income — certainly has enough money to appeal until the cows come home. Those cows are already flush with frequent-flyer miles.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
There are MANY people to thank for getting rent control passed and fighting to save it — including members of the Tenants Organization of Montclair, the local NAACP, the aforementioned Township Council, etc.

Sincerely,
The Grateful Gatsby

A special shout-out to “Rent” and its 1996 Broadway cast, which didn’t have to deal with the MPOA.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of praise, why didn’t you include the Essex County Board of Commissioners in last week’s column when mentioning entities that denounced the Trump-incited far-right-white Capitol riot on January 6?

Sincerely,
Free of Freeholders Name

That board doesn’t deserve much anti-Trump credit after never strongly denouncing the County Executive’s willingness to accept tons of Trump-administration ICE money to jail immigrants. As Shakespeare “sonneted” in a recent blog post: “It’s explicit, not implicit, that the Commissioners were complicit.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
To blog or not to blog…that is the question (when the blogger has been dead since 1616). But doesn’t Montclair-based U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill deserve credit not only for voting to impeach NOW FORMER PRESIDENT Trump but for revealing that some House reactionaries may have given rioters lay-of-the-land tours of the Capitol building the day before?

Sincerely,
Rhea Connaissance

Yes! Getting back to Shakespeare, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” is now “So sleazy is the head that wears the cap.” The red MAGA cap, of course.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Longtime Montclair resident Yogi Berra (1925-2015), who wore a dark blue Yankees cap, will be on a U.S. postage stamp this year. Your take on this deserved honor?

Sincerely,
Catcher in the Wry

1) “When you come to the stamp on a stamp sheet, take it.” 2) “It ain’t over an envelope till it’s over an envelope.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Finally, should Montclair schools partly reopen for optional in-classroom instruction starting January 25 (elementary) and February 8 (upper grades) when the Montclair Education Association is urging that all-remote continue until COVID cases stop rising and widespread vaccinations make things safer?

Sincerely,
Bye or Hi to Hybrid

I’ll answer indirectly by saying it’s ridiculous that New Jersey didn’t include teachers and other school staff among the initial groups of people eligible to be vaccinated. Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!

 

 

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.

 

 

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, crazy times. Now Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission is being sued over blocking the demolition of historic 109 Union Street. They join the other land use bodies being sued – the Planning Board and the Council. As I recall, the Zoning Board has an active appeal.

    In this most recent case, the HPC played nice and polite (unlike the other bodies) and that led to their second mistake. The first mistake was the demolition ordinance.

    The HPC was totally right in their justification to deny the application. They just didn’t execute properly. Again, timing.

    I said the demolition ordinance wouldn’t work. I said it many times (as I have a habit of). It is not fixable. It is something that we will keep on the books to trip up those property owners who do not have the level of lawyering this applicant hired.

  2. Thank you, Frank. I hadn’t heard about that demolition attempt. From doing a bit of googling after seeing your comment, the house at 109 Union apparently was built in 1905 and looks gorgeous and architecturally interesting. Its razing would be a big loss to Montclair. Sorry about the lawsuit by the (affluent, one would assume) applicant. If the demolition ordinance needs fixing/strengthening, I hope that happens.

  3. In a related vein regarding this property, Montclair has a long-standing HP ordinance requiring applying and receiving a Certificate of Appropriateness. It doesn’t seem to have happened, so I understand why the plaintiffs seems to think the HPC doesn’t have standing here in matters of demolition.

    We passed the HPC ordinance decades ago and the HPC still doesn’t understand a fundamental review requirement. My HPC screwed it up in 2008 with an application by 72 South Mountain. They did it again last night with an application by 54 South Mountain. In the interim, the Council even clarified for all the land use bodies when the review is required. Twice!

    My point is when it come to preservation in our town (our responsibility), we just get stupid. And the applicants know this & take advantage of it by not showing up. Absolutely no respect. And we take it. And take it. And take it. We have no pride.

    Just let them tear it down. Call it a day. Fold up the preservation tent and let’s go accomplish something real.

  4. It’s a shame that applicants wanting to tear down historic structures, wanting to overbuild, etc., almost always ultimately get what they want in Montclair.

  5. Yup. And what is it with all the residential half-circle driveways being put this month in homes fronting on our parks? Both Edgemont & Anderson. I’m all for front yard parking, but I draw the line at doubling the number of curb cuts. The poor pedestrians and cyclists. Of course, there is no correlation between parks and these modes of travel.

    Another shame.

  6. Those half-circle driveways are some sort of prestige thing, I guess, in addition to making it easier for the homeowners to drive into the street. I don’t like half-circle driveways, either. Plus they eliminate some grassy areas from front lawns.

  7. And coming back around (somewhat) to housing affordability, we should congratulate the Council for authorizing last week an expenditure of up to $25,000 to inventory & evaluate the historicalness of our Estate Section. In light of an absence of historic preservation support – and some other pressing issues of the day – I find this also to be a shame. Now, if we were going to spend the money to figure out how we could have affordable housing in historic properties, that would sit better. Instead, we are spending $25K to confirm what we already know…yet, we lack passion for…and the property owners. their very elite lawyers and supportive friends and neighbors don’t want.

    So, even more legal costs down the road.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  8. It does seem pretty obvious that the Estate Section is historic. Perhaps there can also be a study of how Undercliff Road — which is under a cliff in a sense — got its name.

  9. Sorry Dave, I missed ur 12:49 reply on the half-circle driveways and my preference is green. I get the ‘it’s my property’ pushback, but the curb cuts are community property. The Public Realm. And it’s looking pretty ugly these days.
    The good news is it is the weekend.

  10. You don’t know?
    The North/South roads follow a hierarchical natural world naming convention while the East/West roads were taken from the predecessor to Ancestry.com – the Gutenberg Press.

  11. Weren’t two previous rent control initiatives defeated by voters in referendums? This was one passed in dark of night amidst a pandemic. Naturally opponents couldn’t get votes to vote. It was bad faith opportunism. It’s also economically illiterate: the evidence clearly show that rent control reduces affordable housing supply in the long run as owners convert to condos. It also reduces owners’ incentives to invest in housing Montclair’s lower income housing stock which is already a bit dilapidated will look even worse in a decade. Check out freakonomics podcast on rent control. It’s just a terrible, dumb way to make housing more affordable. Anyone who had even basic economics knows that

    And talk about equity; why should property owners bear theburden of housing subsidies for low income households. If diversity is a social public good, why aren’t taxpayers footing the Bill with housing vouchers.

    Here is what Montclairvoyant will say:
    -only rich people oppose rent control
    – landlord are rich and can afford to pay for diversity for all
    -rent control is not perfect but it’s a good way to promote diversity and affordable housing (ignoring evidence to the contrary)
    – economists studying rent control are rich so their evidence is suspect

  12. Price controls are necessary because the voters – primarily 1 & 2 family property owners – got greedy supported what was an obvious over-manipulation of the housing market with redevelopment. Yes, we would still have had gentrification, but a slower, more stable pricing changes.

    I can absolutely guarantee you that no member of the Council or other land use body can tell you how much total redevelopment square footage we built in the last 12 years. No one can tell you the revenue differences. Then you combine that with the square footage built-out at MSU during that same period…just another little market catalyst.

    We had to do something. But, wow, did we do it in a slimey way.

  13. Thank you for the comment, lacamina.

    I understand that passing rent control during the pandemic wasn’t ideal, but it had been discussed many months before COVID began. And, heck, rent control is even more needed during a pandemic when more tenants are struggling financially.

    Yes, rent control lost in previous referendums. This time might or might not have been different, but it wouldn’t have been a fair fight given the boatload of money the well-funded Montclair Property Owners Association would have poured into a referendum campaign.

    If rent control is as harmful as you say, why do so many towns and cities have it? Their officials are not all masochists, I presume. 🙂

  14. Frank, in recent years some Montclair landlords and developers and town officials helped create the conditions for rent control to be even more needed than before. Too much greed, too much emphasis on building “upscale” housing, etc.

  15. Yup. Once the successor to TOOM organizes the tenants TOOM unceremoniously threw under the bus…for 10 years no less…then we will get a shot at a just rent control program…and a tenant block with quite the political clout.

    Oh, and maybe then we will get some bike lanes!!

  16. Frank, I’m impressed with TOOM’s work. I realize the rent control measure isn’t perfect, but it was a compromise and better than nothing.

  17. True…for the ones they decided to protect. They just don’t get any moral credit. A small group decided to go after the landlords they believed could afford it the most. So they protected themselves & those tenants. Of course, it was not good optics, so the seniors citizen rate is added. Then came all kinds of unrelated numbers from here and there. Note the Council steered well clear of being associated with those numbers. They are not dummies.

    Fine. Really. They’re not bad people for it. They are just not good people for it. They just are.

  18. Frank, it’s hard to know what behind-the-scenes efforts took place in the months before rent control was passed last April. Maybe the original intent was to protect all tenants or more tenants, and that got negotiated away. Still, as I said before, some rent control is better than none, even if some tenants ended up with more protection than others. I would have loved it if the rent control measure was even stronger, but…

  19. Dave, you made my day with the start of your reply:

    “It’s hard to know what behind-the-scenes efforts took place in the months before rent control was passed last April”

    Ouch, so much for the public transparency of the TOOM and Council. And the advocate were negotiating between themselves. Tough negotiation. Very adversarial.
    I’m sure the MEA has tough negotiations with the NJEA.

    Thanks!

  20. Ha, Frank! Obviously, Township Council business plays out during regular public meetings and conference public meetings — as it should. But I assume there are also email conversations and so on between meetings. That would most likely be the case not only for Montclair’s Council but for governmental entities anywhere.

  21. Of course! Totally. Unquestionably beyond reproach.

    Now, Your Honor, yes, rent control was not on the agenda when we knew of community spread. But, Your Honor, since we had community spread, we…on the spur of the moment…and as spontaneous as it was, introduced not one (1) draft ordinance, but two (2) versions…spontaneously…off the top of our heads. Yes, your honor, we knew full-well that the public hearing ( which are only attended by old people) would be in the middle of that community spread.
    You see, we are really super-duper, very spiritual & smart people in Montclair. We can do that. Guilt-free. Thank you Your Honor.

    I have no doubt we have a government like this here – they are out there, anywhere. I just have some reservations how-gosh-darn proud we should be. I’m not well-educated like so many stakeholder here, I’m also part of the fallen, but it seems to me we might want to take our community arrogance down a notch.

  22. Did I make my point?

    How many Our Fathers and Hail Marys do you think we need for that one? Let’s ask the clergy.

  23. Seriocomically expressed, Frank! Nicely done. 🙂

    The timing of the Township Council’s rent control vote was indeed…”interesting.” Maybe it was scheduled for April not so much because COVID prevented in-person meetings but partly because of the then-upcoming municipal election in May, with much of mail voting taking place in April. So, perhaps partly a political move, but, heck, that sort of illustrates the popularity of rent control if Council members running for another term thought it was a winning issue.

  24. Well then. It settled. The Council will be presenting a resolution on Feb 5 stating, for their political self-interests, they support opening the schools.

    And for the few paying attention, this is how an elected school board would work. Very representative, and also operating under the ‘ends justifies the means’ Montclair code.

  25. Might be a bit of an apple-to-oranges comparison, Frank. Rent control became more popular as Montclair got pricier and more gentrified, while there’s now quite a split in local opinion on whether or not to reopen schools under the hybrid plan (because of the rise in COVID cases, the question of whether or not school buildings have been made safe enough, and the state unfortunately not prioritizing teachers and other school staff for vaccines).

  26. Frankie & Davie! Is there no limit to your awesomeness? Montclair is grateful! I promise you. We love to hear you think as much as you do. Think more and it will grow for both of you!

  27. Thank you for the comment, brigattista. Frank writes something, and I reply. It’s the polite thing to do, and maybe I say something vaguely interesting once in a while. Or maybe not. 🙂 And Frank knows a lot about Montclair.

    Plus when I reach a certain number of comments, I get a free night’s stay at The Marlboro Inn, which closed in 2004 or so.

  28. Ha, Frank! 🙂 Second billing is fine with me. My cat feels differently about his place in the pecking order.

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