The Montclair Township Council has a responsibility to all the citizens of Montclair to arrive at carefully considered town-wide policy. Yet, with respect to rent control, the council ceded the responsibility to craft and to negotiate a new rent control ordinance to two special-interest groups, neither elected nor appointed, to represent the interests of all Montclair citizens.

These were commercial property owners, and a tenant advocacy organization.

We just learned that the new ordinance put forth and agreed to by these two parties will now include two- and three-family homes, except those that are owner-occupied. (Curiously, single-family homes that are rented out seem to be excluded.) This change essentially doubles the number of units proposed under rent control yet no one represented these small property owners in these negotiations. This is unfair and prejudicial to the interests of two- and three-family homeowners.

There is no income test given as rent control will apply across the board. Why should we pass an ordinance that effectively subsidizes tenants who have no problem paying the rents as set by the market? Think about the new Montclarians who see Montclair rents as being eminently affordable in comparison to Brooklyn or New York City. The council should be researching other ways for directed assistance to those in need of rental support.

What new level of bureaucracy will be needed to manage this rent control process fairly and successfully? Do we need more highly paid staff on the town payroll?

The council had shown over the years a lack of commitment to affordable housing until it became a political issue. Over the past 10 years, there has been a huge development boom in Montclair. By state law, new development is not subject to rent control. Thus, the new rent control ordinance will not apply to a significant number of rental units as the new development is excluded.

Four of the current council members held office during this development boom. Advocates for affordable rental housing persistently tried to have these developments require 20% set aside for affordable units. But the council would only support a 5% or 10% affordable housing commitment. Yet, the council was able to give certain development tax breaks through the use of PILOTS (payment in lieu of taxes) and other means. Think how many more affordable units there might have been if the council had insisted on 20% affordable set aside?

As one noted economist said, “the most efficient technique presently known to distroy a city, except for bombing” is to implement rent control. There are better solutions to the problem of affordability and scarcity of housing for those who need this support. Insist on 20% set aside on new construction so developers build this cost into the price they pay for assets; implement a tax on the purchase and/or sale of houses to fund a housing trust for needy tenants; have a small entertainment tax; go after any available state and federal funds.

Or, just permit the free market to operate freely without government intervention.

Carmel Loughman

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