Montclair rent control advocates ‘jubilant’ over new law
After a judge ruled Friday that the town’s first rent control law must go into effect immediately, advocates celebrated downtown.
Julia Martin, NorthJersey.com
In the midst of the housing crisis facing our country, I am proud that Montclair is implementing a fair and balanced rent control ordinance. We have taken a stand to protect renters while balancing the economic realities of property ownership, thus providing stability, predictability and fairness in our rental market. One lesson COVID-19 has taught us is that housing is a critical part of health care. By implementing rent control we are contributing to the health of our residents and our community.
Hard work and collaboration resulted in this groundbreaking agreement and I am grateful all parties were committed to working together for the outcome our residents deserve. Rent control has been a priority for me since my days as a council member when I advocated for, and we passed, the first rent control measures. But we knew that was just a piece in the overall solution.
Despite the fact that enacting rent control failed multiple times in Montclair, stretching back to 1979, as mayor I made it my priority. Through the resolve of the Tenants Organization of Montclair, Montclair Property Owners Association and members of the council, we got the job done. I am proud of both the outcome and the process, which demonstrates what we can accomplish when we work together.
The ordinance we negotiated and ultimately passed includes relief from large rent increases, new legal protections for tenants, the creation of a new rental assistance program funded by legal fees contributed from landlords, and a rent control board and office. These measures provide predictability for renters, supports diversity in our neighborhoods and protects families with school age children as well as our seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
Given that New Jersey consistently ranks in the top 10 most expensive states for rentals, as a community, we should take pride in what we accomplished. With the current shortages of affordable homes, market pressures drive up the price of rentals. Rent stabilization at the local level makes a real difference in preventing rents from skyrocketing as a result of these pressures. That makes the difference for a family being able to afford their rent and still afford to put food on the table.
The passage of rent control is just one piece in solving the broader housing crisis. It is crucial and urgent that we work to create a collaborative, community-driven approach to ensure people have affordable homes in vibrant and thriving neighborhoods. Reports such as “Thriving Cities: A New Urban Agenda” by Housing and Community Development Networks of New Jersey, provides comprehensive policy suggestions for thriving communities, with affordable homes as a foundational part of the puzzle. Their research proves we can take steps to successfully put an end to this crisis.
Solutions require actions at every level — from municipal to federal. In Montclair, we will be working to fully enact our rent control ordinance. We will continue to share information so that renters and landlords know what is required. The board and rent control officer will be active in assuring implementation and adherence to the ordinance.
Gov. Phil Murphy has been a strong advocate for solutions at the state level. His commitment to preserving the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for its intended use, investing over $100 million in rental assistance and enacting eviction protections during the worst of the pandemic all work to ease the stress on the market and renters. Even more significant is the governor’s historic proposal to dedicate $300 million of Federal COVID-19 relief funds to build affordable housing. This will be transformative in addressing statewide shortages.
While Montclair does not have outstanding affordable housing construction, as mayor, I fully support this investment because it will relieve a statewide shortage that impacts Montclair renters as well. The Legislature must approve this investment as the budget is finalized in June.
The federal government must continue to do its part as well. We need increased federal investment in the National Housing Trust Fund and expand rental assistance programs to the most vulnerable at greatest risk of homelessness. I join colleagues in the Legislature calling on Congress to include these investments in the federal reconciliation bill.
In many ways Montclair serves as a microcosm of the state’s diversity. We are but one municipality in a state where not enough have rent control laws. What helps us, in Montclair, preserve our diverse and vibrant community can benefit communities across New Jersey. Assuring stable and affordable homes for people has always been a priority, but never more important given what we have learned from the pandemic.
As mayor of Montclair, I can say it is worth the effort and we encourage other municipalities to protect their renters as part of creating thriving communities across our great state. Solving our housing crisis requires us to work together, empower communities and include residents in the decision-making process. The result will be stronger neighborhoods, vibrant communities and a stronger and fairer economy.
Sean M. Spiller is the mayor of Montclair.