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.