Rent control: Homeowners will pick up brunt of taxes

How much taxes can we or should we have to bear? Last week, during a teleconference meeting, the council approved a rent-control ordinance for buildings with four or more units, capping rent increases at 4.25 percent and at 2.5 percent if anyone over age 65 lives in the unit. Taxes will be reduced to the town as rental revenues decrease in rental buildings, and someone has to make up for the losses. Is social engineering responsible government? 

According to the Montclair Local, the 2016 census reported 42 percent of town residents rent, with 13.2 percent in two-unit buildings and 10.2 percent in three- to four-unit buildings. That means 58 percent of town residents are buying their homes and investing in Montclair. Representatives are responding to tenants’ complaints, but what do people say who will pay for it? 

Is this even the right time to do this? Locally hundreds of new apartments going up in Montclair and surrounding towns may alter rental market demands in the next few years. Economic experts cannot predict market forces with recent weekly leaps in unemployment and a plunging economy. 

Rent control has been debated for decades and consistently voted down by Montclair residents in referendums. It was approved by the council prior to the May 12 election and during this extraordinary economic time when residents need to stay home. Rent control was proposed by both mayoral candidates and approved only by those councilors running for reelection. The mayor and councilor who are not running chose to abstain. 

Montclair’s municipal assessor, George Librizzi, CTA, IFAS, SCGREA, stated, “Rent control will eventually shift some tax burden to property with four  units and less; when that happens depends on economic and market conditions.” If the property’s revenue is constrained, the value of the property is constrained, and consequently taxes will be made up by smaller properties.

Mr. Librizzi added, “A free market will find the right level of rent.” Hundreds of apartments are now being built or are planned for in and around Montclair. Landlords will have to compete for the good tenants.

According to the N.J. Assessor’s Handbook, residential property with five  or more units is assessed or valued with an income approach. “We need more ratables” was the mantra justifying large-scale development to help contain taxes in recent years. How does lowering tax revenues on buildings fit in this plan? 

Economic and racial diversity is valued in Montclair, but how much will social engineering contribute to a gradual demise of the town’s popularity by intervening in market forces? Most single-family home owners in median-priced homes already flee their taxes when their children graduate from high school, selling to young families who will also pay less in taxes than the town incurs in the costs for public schooling. 

Montclair is full of good people who like to help others with affordable housing; in Montclair, however, costs and consequences seem ignored. Affordable housing advocates press our town for more and more lower-cost/lower-taxed housing. Other taxpayers make up the differences in services not covered in lower taxes. Montclair provides its share of government-mandated affordable units. 

Advocates speak about the long list of people who need affordable housing and want to live in Montclair. They also speak about those residents spending over 30 percent of income for housing in addition to lifelong residents who now cannot afford to stay. It’s not unique to pay 30 percent in housing if you choose to live in a popular area, and retirees all over the Northeast leave their homes for less expensive states. Many Montclair retirees move to more affordable local towns offering comfortable lifestyles and visit Montclair. There is an endless list of people who want what they cannot afford. We are all on that list. 

That said, losing most empty-nesters and seniors is very problematic. Town finances need more residents paying taxes who support the schools but don’t use them. It’s very nice to give someone a break .. . if it’s affordable. We also need to attract residents who can afford to stay and maintain the diversity of homes.

Local realtors all say the same thing. People choose Montclair for these reasons: its accessibility to Manhattan, the school system, a cosmopolitan feel, walkable business districts, parks and park-like neighborhoods, a wealth of beautiful housing stock, and its diversity. 

Most likely a group of landlords protesting the ordinance will appeal the new law in court and/or will collect signatures to put this on the ballot for voters to decide. 

There is a policy debate. Find the ordinance on the town site’s Council April 7 agenda page. Support the landlords’ appeal or sign their petition for a referendum for voters to decide.

Ask your representatives why they think it’s good for the town and for constituents. Find emails on the town site.

  1. Would it make more sense to have short-term rent control to restrict unjustifiably high rent increases until the market forces provide a path to the “right level of rent”?
  2. Is it taxpayers’ and the town government’s obligation to maintain our diversity and demographic character by redistributing taxes? 
  3. How much intervention in market forces can town residents afford to help people live here who otherwise cannot afford to? 
  4. Do we have the right to limit private property rights with rent control?
  5. Why was this approved now during personal, family, and economic upheaval and when so many apartments are being developed in the area?
  6. Will having even more restrictive rent increases for senior tenants encourage landlords to not rent to seniors? 

Linda Cranston

The author is the founder of SaveMontclair, a coalition advocating for preservation and responsible development.


Prisons are ticking time bombs

Many immigration detention centers and jails hold people in warehouse-style spaces where social distancing is not possible. You can see a picture of the Elizabeth Detention Center’s large-group bedroom on The Marshall Project website. (March 19 article: First ICE employee tests positive for coronavirus)

The healthcare services for incarcerated persons are extremely poor, to say the least. Guards and incarcerated people are already being infected with COVID-19. The first Hudson County Jail correctional officer has died of COVID-19, according to an April 2 article.

We don’t have to travel in time to foresee how prison authorities will behave now that we already have COVID-19 among us all. In an April 5’s article titled “Inmate says she was left ‘basically for dead’ in room at N.J. prison after getting sick amid coronavirus outbreak,” an incarcerated woman detailed the ordeal that she went through during treatment of her symptoms of probable COVID-19. She started feeling sick March 21 with a dry cough and 100-degree temperature. She went to the health service section of the prison and was given cough drops and Mucinex and Zyrtec. She was sent back to her wing, where she lives with seven other women. Two days later her body temperature rose and she had body aches and weakness. She was admitted to the infirmary, where she was held for three days without running water and couldn’t even take a shower or brush her teeth. She was later sent to an isolation cell, which she describes as a “traumatizing” experience since it had only hot water, was “ant-infested” and was uncomfortably hot. When symptoms subsided, she was sent back to her wing; no COVID-19 test was done.

Incarcerated people are terrified, they think they are going to be left to die. We do not have more time. The only sanitary strategy at this point is decarceration. Let’s free the immigrants, people in pretrial, the elderly, the pregnant women, the sick, and make tests available at prisons. Call your representatives, call Gov. Murphy and call your county authorities as well. We must stop the catastrophe of hundreds of deaths, before the ticking time bomb goes off. 

Maria Eva Dorigo


Leaf blowers are a health issue

I am one of those residents that called Montclair town hall last week to ask for a leaf-blower ban during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reason stems from a health issue: Leaf blowers are blowing in the air not only chemicals, feces, insecticides, and so on, but viruses as well. 

First of all, the governor’s order says landscapers can work — he did not say they have to use leaf blowers! 

Montclair residents are not asking to stop landscapers from working, they are simply asking that landscapers use rakes instead of blowers.

Montclair residents are very sensitive in protecting the environment, and each year a large number of us ask the town to ban leaf blowers, but it is very interesting to observe that our plea is systematically ignored year after year. 

Since our Montclair officials are totally oblivious to our residents’ well-being, I am asking that each one of us demand that our landscapers do not use gas-powered leaf blowers on our property. 

It can be easily done, since the homeowners are the ones hiring and paying the landscapers. 

I did it!

Aurora De Juliis Carluccio