As Hackensack sees a surge of construction downtown, developers must set aside 10% of new units for affordable housing in developments that would be constructed in more than a hundred acres of new “inclusionary zones,” under a settlement between the city and the Fair Share Housing Center.
After five years of discussions between the city and the nonprofit housing advocacy group, Superior Court Judge Gregg Padovano approved the agreement on Oct. 22 to ensure Hackensack meets its low- and moderate-income unit obligations and complies with the Mount Laurel doctrine.
Hackensack will prioritize affordable housing units in three zones along Hudson Street, Main Street, Johnson Avenue, Essex Street and Railroad Avenue, and the city is in the process of amending its zoning to allow for more housing density in those areas. Developers will have to set aside 10% of their units in these zones for low- and moderate-income households, and won’t be able to pay fees or take other actions to get around it.
In Bergen County, a four-person household that makes less than $76,761 would be considered moderate income, and below $47,976 would qualify as low income. For two people, moderate income is less than $61,409, while low income is below $38,381. What a renter pays for affordable housing, or housing with rent subsidized by the government, depends on a person’s income level.
“Our downtown revitalization plan is creating a brighter future for our city with millions of dollars in new tax revenue and a reinvigorated Main Street, and we want to ensure that all residents are able to stay here in our community with this affordable housing plan,” said Mayor John Labrosse in a statement. “It’s designed to provide long-term solutions for residents who deserve to be able to stay here in our city while it progresses into the crown jewel of Bergen County that we know it can be.”
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Members of The Work Group of Hackensack, a community-based organization, aren’t satisfied with the plan.
“We should have at least 15 to 20% of each apartment building with affordable housing and we didn’t get any of that,” said resident Brigitte Rucker. “What I’m seeing here is, they sold our city to developers.”
To meet its obligations, the city is also weighing four projects, each with 60 rental units, all of which would be set aside as affordable housing. They include:
- 251 West Railroad Ave. Family Apartments: Bergen Community Action partnered with Pennrose on a 42-unit rental project and intends to increase it to 60 units. Pennrose is submitting a 9% tax credit application for 2021.
- Hackensack Housing Authority: The HHA would purchase and donate city-owned land for the project, but details about this proposal are unclear.
- Housing Authority of Bergen County: HBAC proposed a project on Hudson Street, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely the housing authority would apply for a tax credit until at least 2021, according to the settlement.
- Arena Diner Project: Hampshire Properties expressed interest in providing affordable housing at 250 Essex Street.
“The projects were specifically picked because they are near public transportation, in places that would be easy for people to walk to schools, retail establishments, government buildings, things like that,” said Nancy Holm, affordable housing counsel for the city of Hackensack.
Rucker, Victor Geddis and Randy Glover, members of the Work Group of Hackensack, did not support the proposed locations.
“We’re 52 years removed from the Fair Housing Act, and you’re trying to do the same thing and put Black and brown people by a railroad?” Rucker said. “We’re still living in that time of segregation.”
Additionally, Hackensack has renovated or is in the process of fixing 431 units in town, and must improve 151 more units of existing housing, according to the settlement. This could include things like replacing sewer lines, kitchen cabinets or roofs.
“While gentrification in Hackensack is a serious issue we work to address, it’s a different issue than what this legal process is about,” said Adam Gordon, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “This is about existing substandard housing that needs to be picked up and righting the wrongs of the history of exclusionary housing.”
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The Work Group of Hackensack took issue with the fact that many of the affordable units Hackensack built that counted toward the formula are senior citizen rentals or those with special needs.
“How can you include those buildings that a regular working class person could not get into, and people are stuck on an affordable housing wait list for five, six, seven years?” Rucker said.
The city is waiting for a final order signed by a judge within the next week or so and a final scheduled hearing. If the judge says Hackensack has met its affordable housing needs, the city will be protected from builder’s remedy lawsuits until 2025. Having a settlement approved is the preferred option for a city, so city leaders can decide where affordable housing units go, rather than the developer.
“We want longtime Hackensack residents to feel confident that they will always have a place here in our city, especially our seniors and our working families,” said Deputy Mayor David Sims. “This affordable housing plan is the key to making sure we are using redevelopment to help all of our residents, and I’m proud that the City Council was able to reach this important agreement.”
View a copy of the settlement below:
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Hackensack’s affordable housing plan sets aside 10% of new units in three downtown zones