For the first time in more than three decades, affordable housing units could be built in downtown Jersey City, thanks to a compromise deal reached last week between city officials and the owner of vacant land at 110 First St.
The 10 rental units that have been promised are, however, a step down from the 25 affordable units that had originally been planned for the 452-unit project.
This development has become a flashpoint of controversy because of the property owner’s insistence in recent months that the affordable units be dropped from the project altogether. It now remains to be seen whether the 10-unit compromise will be approved by City Council members who wanted to hold the property owner to the original agreement.
According to Cavanaugh, developers balked at the requirement that 25 affordable housing units be built on-site.
The 110 lot has remained vacant for six years and this project has not broken ground, according at Goldman attorney Robert Cavanaugh, because developers who were going to partner with Goldman on the project balked at the requirement that 25 affordable housing units be built on-site.
“Three developers have already walked away from this project. We’re now working with our fourth developer,” said Cavanaugh. “The affordable housing requirement was not the only reason developers have back out, but it was one of the reasons they gave for not working with us. They said they either couldn’t get financing or they just couldn’t get the numbers to work out in a way that had some benefit for them.”
Earlier this year Goldman began negotiating in closed-door meetings with the city’s corporation counsel to have the 25 affordable housing units dropped from the project in exchange for giving a $2.5 million contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (Goldman has already made one $2.5 million contribution to the trust fund, which helped fund the construction of the Summit Heights development.)
The City Council refused to approve this deal in May after it was pointed out that affordable housing units created from the trust fund are disproportionately built in Wards F, D, and B, with no affordable housing units built in Ward C or downtown in Ward E. The Summit Heights development is, for example, located in the Jersey City Heights in Ward D.
This revelation has led some members of the council to call for a more even distribution of affordable housing throughout the city, rather than concentrations of it in certain communities.
“Is there anything in this agreement that requires that the $2.5 million be used to create affordable housing near this development?” Ward B Councilman David Donnelly asked in May when Goldman tried to have the affordable housing units nixed from the 110 First St. development. “I think the way to do affordable housing is not to concentrate them in one community, but to spread them out throughout the city.” Cities, he added, fare best when they are “economically diverse and mixed.”
At the center of the debate are two sites on First Street that were once 110 First St. and 111 First St., the latter of which was once home to the ill-fated 111 First St. artists’ studios.
More than 10 years ago Goldman waged a bitter legal battle to evict and otherwise remove artists from the 111 First St. lofts, which had been home to artists’ studios since the 1980s. After the artists were forced out, Goldman fought an equally bitter legal battle with the city for the right to demolish 111 First, which the city said was an historic property.
Goldman and the city eventually settled. Goldman was allowed to demolish 111 First St. and develop both the 110 and 111 properties in exchange for numerous concessions to the city.
Among the agreements Goldman made was to include 25 affordable housing units in his 35-story development at 110 First St. and contribute $2.5 million to the affordable Housing Trust Fund. (Separate affordable housing units and artists’ lofts are planned for the new 111 First St. development.) The planned development at 110 First St. would have a total of 452 units, including 427 market rate apartments. The 110 First St. development received a tax abatement from the city and obtained site plan approval.
Under the new agreement reached last week with Goldman, he and a developer will build a 35-story, 452-unit residential project at 110 First St. The development will have 442 market rate rental apartments and 10 affordable housing units on-site. Goldman will contribute $750,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will be used to create 15 additional affordable housing units off-site.
The project will also include 343 parking spaces and 16,597 square feet of retail space.
“I spoke to [Councilwoman At-large] Viola Richardson and she said we absolutely had to have some affordable housing on-site,” said Cavanaugh. “She was instrumental in getting on-site units back in the project.”
This compromise agreement must still be approved by the full City Council. It could be on the agenda at one of the council meetings later this month.
Meanwhile, a proposed law introduced last month by council members Steven Fulop and Rolando Lavarro Jr. that would require affordable housing trust fund projects to be built in the same wards as the developments that generated the contribution has been shelved while the council weighs how best to disperse affordable housing throughout the city.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.