Freezing rents further is no substitution for rent stablization (Letter to the editor)
In the beginning of the pandemic, the previous Township Council voted to freeze rents on most rental units in Montclair. It's something that I voted for six times to cover the balance of 2020 and all of the year 2021 to support tenants who were struggling.
Having grown up in rent-controlled and then regular rental housing until I was 37 years old, I've been a tenant most of my life. But I feel strongly that in these roles we have to be stewards of the bigger economic picture and particularly in my position, representing the entire town, I have to balance various interests and be mindful of the impacts of these decisions. I don't feel right about voting to raise taxes by 2% two years in a row and voting to increase sewer bills, and then not allowing landlords to increase rents even modestly to meet their increased expenses that we've imposed.
Being a landlord doesn't equal being wealthy. There are many landlords who rely solely on rental income as income, particularly in a place like Montclair where a Social Security check just doesn't cut it.
I know that my votes to extend the rent freeze frustrated some landlords, and I know that my votes to discontinue the rent freeze will frustrate some tenants. Gas prices are higher, the cost of food is higher and many tenants continue to struggle, and I get that. But I see it as our job to find other ways to help, including pursuing more aid from a state government with a significant surplus, rather than asking landlords to continue to bear the full burden.
As we are just days away from spring, with the pandemic having subsided dramatically, schools open full-time, record-high inflation and record-low unemployment, I feel that supporting a freeze through Memorial Day is irresponsible and undermines our credibility should we need to enact something like this again in a future crisis.
Freezing rents is not a substitution for an affordable housing strategy or for rent control. The rent control bill that the previous council enacted in 2020, which both tenant groups and landlords have characterized to me as being significantly flawed, has been held up in litigation ever since. I continue to believe that compromise is within reach and that with a new approach and some new folks at the table, we could potentially bring this ordeal to a close and get rent stabilization in place swiftly without a divisive referendum that I'm fearful may leave Montclair without any tools to combat the rising rents that are pushing out individuals and families who built this town and make it such a great place to be.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be transparent, honest and straightforward as I always promised I would be, whether my position was popular or not.
Montclair Township councilman at-large
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