Vote no on 2
Oct 28, 2012 | 2506 views | 4 4 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Dear Editor:

I saw a screening of Nora Jacobson's documentary film "Delivered Vacant" at the Community Church Friday night presented by Hoboken Fair Housing Association.

It's a powerful film and should be required viewing for Hoboken residents as we head into an election season when rent control laws might be weakened by the passing of Hoboken Public Question Number 2 on the ballot. It shows vividly the human cost of the rush toward condo conversion in 1970s when many were pushed from their homes, many buildings were burned and many were killed in the fires. This is one of those horrific pages of history that few would want to relive. This New York Times article from 1981 (http://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/08/nyregion/hoboken-fear-of-fire-haunts-many.html) reminds us that at that date, "Since March 1978, 41 persons, including 30 children, have died in arson-related fires."

No one was ever caught for setting the fires. As the article shows, the community was gripped by fear. It was no coincidence that at the time Hoboken had more fires per capita than any city in America, the market was conferring large financial rewards on property owners for getting tenants out so they could convert the apartments to condos for new, more affluent residents coming into town. This is a brutal example of why the free market is not always the best arbitrator of civic policy.

I've seen letters from property owners who are irate at the idea that they would unfairly try to force people out of their apartments, even if the reward for doing it was a fortune. The rent control laws are not for the decent property owners, but for the rare few who would go to any lengths for profit. History proves that there are such people, even right here in Hoboken, and we need laws to protect the community against them.

Most people, thank God, only want to live and let live and have a reasonable chance of providing a good life for their families. But there are exceptions, and for those we need some legal limits. Hoboken’s rent control laws were already weakened substantially in the last round of reform. The laws have built in protections for landlords to get a fair return on their investments and for tenants to have reasonably stable housing. If some say more change is needed, let’s go about it in an orderly democratic way, with the mayor and council hashing out the issues in a transparent public forum, not through a special interest group writing a law for their own interests and passing it off on the public using deceptive language on the ballot.

I salute Mayor Zimmer for taking a stand on this issue and I urge Hoboken residents to vote no on Public Question Number 2 on November 6.

David Cogswell

Comments
(4)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
ronsimoncini
|
October 28, 2012
Hoboken can't afford to live in even 2008, forget 1978, and no right rational person could base their critical vote on a film that admits when it was made that things already had changed in Hoboken. As horrible as those fires were for the families that lost loved ones and the rest of the community, there is absolutely no sense that rent control, which dates to 1981 in Hoboken, was responsible. we cannot punish all current real estate owners because, as the writer admits, there might be a few bad ones. the writer considers property owners a criminal class. really? all 12,000 condo owners? with the protections in place against harassment and eviction, we are to base all future policies not even on a trial or an inherent danger, but on a film?

let's wake up to what this is really about: not rent control, but control. a small group of radical tenant activists wants to hold on at any cost to their relevance. they don't talk about policy, they ask us to accept their psychology. the longer the campaign goes on the more insulting it is not only to real estate owners but to anyone who has taken a moment to consider the issue objectively. Vote Yes on Question 2 and protect all existing tenants just as they were when they moved in, but allow properties owner to improve their properties and the city to fairly balance the tax burden. there is no reason to subsidize the rents of people moving to hoboken who have sufficient incomes to pay a market rent at the expense of the people who already live here, most of whom pay huge property taxes for their condominiums or market rents.

and finally, to those seniors and public housing residents, this vote does not effect you at all. you have been peppered with flyers saying you face eviction. that is a desperate ploy to gain your vote out of fear. the truth is, in a city that has been cutting firemen and police officers, you should be Voting Yes to increase tax revenues from multi-family owners -- maybe there will be enough new money to hire back your safety workers. Your protections are never going to come from the rent leveling office or a handful of radical activists. they are going to come from cops and firemen.
cogswell
|
October 28, 2012
The history of fires in Hoboken and the many deaths that resulted from letting free market forces run rampant in the housing market here is a stark refutation of your endlessly repeated claim that no landlord would ever harass a tenant out of an apartment. You keep stating that this never happens, never could happen, that there is no evidence of it ever happening. But obviously it does happen. And as your colleague stated at the debates the other night, repeating an untrue statement over and over does not make it true. History shows over and over that when there is a fortune to be made, people will go to great lengths to get it, and some will even cross the line into unscrupulous behavior. In this town people have even gone to the extent of arson and murder to get people out of apartments to make way for developments, improvements and higher-paying tenants. I'd like to know what you think has changed in this regard since 1978. Certainly not human nature, certainly not the power of money to influence human affairs. If anything, the economic pressure on people is greater than ever now. You are advocating a change in the laws that would create an incentive to push people out of their homes to make more money. There are many examples of tenants being harassed, though you claim it never happens. The arson was only the most extreme example. You are asking us to believe in a fantasy world in which all people are good and kind and will never stoop to unscrupulous behavior or blur moral lines to make a fortune, and I don't think many people are living there in that world with you.
cogswell
|
October 28, 2012
Ron, take a deep breath. Where do you get the idea that I say all property owners are a criminal class? If you can falsely attribute a statement like that to me, I guess it makes it easy to oppose it and to paint all who oppose your initiative as radical extremists. It seems you want to get these 12,000 condo owners riled up against someone who has called them criminals and maybe that will stir up some enthusiasm for your initiative. You keep trying to create animosities between tenants and property owners by making these broad generalizations and name calling. But that's not what I said. I do not think all condo owners or property owners are criminals. Many of my friends are property owners and I am concerned for their interests as well. Your attempts to stir up a war between us are not appreciated. Your previous sentence, which contradicts the other, is more accurate. I advocate maintaining the current protections not to accuse all property owners of being incipient criminals, but to disincentivize any who might be tempted to cross moral lines to take hold of a fortune that is offered to them. As we have seen, that behavior can range from fairly mild harassment to murder. That is history. Call it fear mongering if you want. You are the one advocating a change from the protections that have been in place for decades. You are the one who is painting tenant advocates as radical extremists for trying to maintain the status quo. You are the one whose cause seems to rely on stirring up animosities between Hoboken residents.
cogswell
|
November 02, 2012
Ron. You’ve abandoned me. You are usually so diligent in slamming every letter that does not support your initiative. Are you okay? You seem awfully high strung lately.

I tried to approach you after the debate the other night to have a conversation. But you were wrapped up telling some friends a dramatic tale of some battle with wild and woolly tenants. You seemed to shun my approach, so I didn’t bother you.

Ron, I sympathize with you. I can only imagine the pressure you are under. You really need that initiative to go through. It’s your job. And I know that for you it is more than just a job. You really believe in this reform. You believe in the concept and the ideology behind it. You are absolutely sure you are right. You really believe rent control is wrong. You are committed to getting rid of it, and I have heard you have managed to achieve your goal in some other towns already.

And now you and your colleague Mr. Gormally are busy trying to discredit every letter that opposes your initiative. It’s pretty much just the two of you trying to take on a veritable army of Hoboken residents, and not all of them tenants, by the way. There are many property owners who also oppose your initiative. That includes some who supported your last initiatives, which became law last year and significantly weakened rent control regulations.

I know you have tremendous passion for your cause, and in churning yourself up for battle, and hoping to rouse others to your side, you have created in your mind an image of those who oppose you as a mob of evil tenants who resemble the flesh-eating zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.”

But Ron, we are not flesh-eating zombies trying to devour you. We are only Hoboken residents who like our community the way it is and don’t want to weaken rent control any more. It was already weakened significantly last year from earlier reforms pushed by your group. I know your stated goal is to remove rent control completely and that’s where we disagree. Many people appreciate the diversity of our town with its current residents and don’t want to push them out to make way for more affluent tenants. One of the people I know who opposes your initiative is a realtor, born and raised in Hoboken, who told me he supports rent control because most of the people he grew up with can no longer afford to live here.

Developer Steve Silverman recently bought a two-page ad in the Reporter in support of your initiative and he said that no one currently living here will be affected by your initiative, but that as tenants move, one by one, they will be replaced by people moving in from out of town who can easily afford to pay more rent. This was said in order to make present tenants feel safe. And even if not a single landlord leans on a single tenant to move out, the stated purpose of the reform is still ultimately to replace current tenants with new tenants from out of town who can afford more than their predecessors. Perhaps you cannot see why that would bother anyone. But there are people in town who like Hoboken the way it is and the fact that we can have both rich and not-so-rich people living here. Even if it takes 20 years for this reform to affect the change, we don’t want to turn Hoboken into a one-dimensional community only for the rich.

From your point of view it is simply about free market economics and the ideology is so clear that you can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with it. Anyone who does, you reason, must be a radical extremist. But in fact there are many who disagree with your initiative who are not “radical extremists,” just rank-and-file residents of Hoboken.

It’s just a difference of opinion.