Now that rent control regulations have withstood the latest assault by the developer/real estate interest group Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA), it would be good to make note of what happened because MSTA will do it again. MSTA is the Hoboken branch of an operation that has made a profession of decimating rent control regulations in various municipalities in New Jersey. The developers that are MSTA’s principle source of funding are dead set on wiping out restrictions on how high they can raise rents on their properties in Hoboken.
In recent years MSTA has been aggressively attacking rent control using a range of legal and political tactics. A few years back it was lawsuits against the City of Hoboken and individual city council members, tying up the city and its officials in expensive legal battles. The group moved on to writing its own law, filing it as an initiative to be voted on in a referendum, and then mounting a political campaign based primarily on misleading voters who want to support rent control into voting against their own interests.
Their strategy came very close to working. They intimidated city officials to the extent that the officials stood back as MSTA hijacked the machinery of government and tried to rewrite the laws for themselves.
Without deception they would never have come so close. MSTA’s operatives went through many machinations to get wording on the ballot that would start by saying their proposal was “to keep rent control …” but then twisted the words around so it ends up advocating reducing rent control.
In spite of the inherently deceptive nature of their campaign, one of MSTA’s justifications for promoting “vacancy decontrol” (which means when tenants move out they can raise the rent sky high) and for removing smaller buildings from rent control, was that no landlord would ever improperly push out a tenant just because he could make a fortune by doing so. Landlords were too ethical for that, they said. But MSTA wasn’t too ethical to mislead voters about what their proposal would really do. It wasn’t too ethical to use a court case to overturn an election even after it was shown that their evidence wasn’t credible and the vast majority of the supposedly disenfranchised voters on their list were not even Hoboken residents and could not have possibly affected the outcome of the election. Still they went ahead and forced Hoboken to have another election on it.
Their campaign had the advantage of being massively funded by people who stand to make fortunes by turning Hoboken into a speculators’ playground. They had deep enough pockets to do whatever they wanted, to break any opponent in court and to finance almost any campaign tactics. They came very close to taking control of Hoboken for their own purposes.
Let it be remembered, because they will be back, perhaps under a new name or some other guise. And they will have still newer surprise tactics for us.