Rent control is complicated; there are plausible arguments on both sides. Most economists assert rent control actually raises rents for new tenants. But even so, Hoboken’s population has nearly doubled since I moved here in 1981. You see the crowding for busses, backed up traffic, and jammed parks. Is making rents a little cheaper for new residents really a pressing concern? I’m skeptical. Or take taxes: It sounds logical when rent control opponents say that if some pay more, the rest of us will pay less. But often, when a rent controlled building is vacated it is renovated or replaced to maximize density, bringing more people to town, increasing demand on city services, parking and the rest. Studies have shown new residential construction actually adds more to the cost of city services than it brings in ratables. If taxes are your issue – and they are one of mine—the most important thing to do in this election is vote for Kid’s First: Gold, Sobolov, Evans; they’ve held the line at the Board of Education. And then re-elect Mayor Zimmer and her team who did the same for city taxes. The impact on our tax bills from any change in rent control will be negligible compared with the cost of reverting to the old ways of doing business.
Admittedly, Hoboken’s rent control law was once broken. But improved administration under Suzanne Hetman, and the passage of Z-88, resolved most issues and when new ones arise they are being addressed. Case in point: a recent court decision prohibited condo owner-occupants from setting a market rent if they later decide to rent it out. Councilwoman Giattino found this unreasonable and introduced an ordinance to allow the charging of market rents, only to have it stalled by the four-four gridlock on the council. The council opposition’s “solution” is to support the rent control rollback initiative, which does protect condo owner-occupants who rent out their units, but goes much further, giving investors the right to buy any condo in a residential building and rent it at market rates to multiple unrelated new residents. This means families trying to purchase a condo would compete with investors, and will likely lead to what once were largely owner-occupied buildings filling up with tenants.
Initiative No.1 totally decontrols small buildings as soon as a tenant moves out. Its supporters claim families won’t be forced out, but with no enforcement mechanism, how meaningful is that protection? Look to the sad history of arson and death in Hoboken in the 80’s for one answer. Rent control isn’t perfect, but part of Hoboken will be lost if long-term residents of modest means are forced out. For a real impact on taxes, the candidates for council, mayor and school board are where the action is. If you’re concerned about property values, improve schools by helping Kids First – Vote 3-5-8. I’m a taxpayer, I’m a landlord, and I’ll be voting no on ballot question No.1. I encourage you to do the same.
Member of the Hoboken Rent Leveling Board