Residents passionately denounce Asbury Park rent leveling ordinance

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Signs hanging outside windows saying No Job, No Rent
No Job, No Rent photo from A.P.A.H.C. website

Unanimous approval by City Council of  controversial ordinance

The Asbury Park City Council unanimously voted on a rent leveling ordinance March 10th at a virtually held city council meeting. Many petitioners, Asbury Park residents, and advocacy groups spoke against the city’s ordinance for doing little to level rent increases compared to the petitioner’s own rent stabilizing ordinance proposal. The proposal will be a referendum for city residents to vote on next month on April 20.

Residents from the Asbury Park Affordable Housing group and the opposition Asbury Park Property Owners organization spoke vehemently about what it means to thrive in Asbury Park.

According to the city council approved ordinance rents could be raised 3.5 percent each year. However, the ordinance also states that there is an unlimited maximum raise if the Consumer Price Index should go above 3.5 percent. “This would be the only ordinance in the state that is like that,” said Michael Kahn, Vice President and Director of Operations of the New Jersey Tenants Organization. Khan, one of the many residents who opposes the city’s ordinance, said that the unlimited vacancy decontrol will allow rent to skyrocket. To him, this isn’t a rent control ordinance at all.

Vacancy decontrol allows a landlord to increase rent after the apartment is left vacant from the prior tenant. Without limits on rent increases, the “rent leveling” goal of the city’s ordinance fails to level rent at all some say. However Ron Simoncini, Axiom Communication founder, disagrees. “Rent control does not go to people who need it,” he said. “Rent control is something that benefits people who are stable households.”

“This is why you have this problem in the first place,” said Khan in response to vacancy decontrol discussion. The President of New Jersey Tenants Organization points to stable homes becoming unstable do to possible rent increase.

Khan wasn’t alone in his opinion. Asbury Park resident and landlord, Mike Szczurek didn’t have a drop of sympathy for his fellow landlords. “The fact that landlords are coming on this call and saying that they have it hard and it’s so difficult to be a landlord in town is absolutely insane,” said Szczurek. The landlord said that due to low inflation rates landlords are already being subsidized (or given money) by the Federal Reserve in low interest rates. “Over the last 10-20 years Asbury Park landlords have done extraordinarily well in Asbury Park,” said Szczurek.

City Clerk Melody Hartsgrove and a former city council candidate and member of Asbury Park Affordable Housing Coalition, Felicia Simmons agreed. “No one is hurting but the people that are trying to live here,” said Simmons.

However Peter Siegel, a landlord and member of the Property Owners coalition, spoke with soft agitation. He said he likes the city’s ordinance which many say favors landlords. “We do think there is no need to go to referendum,” said Siegel.

The referendum will give voice to the voters say the Asbury Park Affordable Housing Coalition on the groups proposed rent stabilization ordinance. If the affordable housing’s ordinance, which has received 700 signatures in petition, wins the vote, the ordinance will override the city council’s approved version.

Unlike the council’s ordinance, the petitioner’s ordinance limits rent increases to 4 percent of the rate of inflation, or the price of a previous lease agreements rent over the last 15 months. Additionally, the petition calls for forbidding vacancy decontrol, and a seven member board. The proposal may go to a vote next month. It would give a larger representation to tenants with four positions on the Board out of a total of seven. The other three positions would be comprised of landlords.

Some residents say that intensive gentrification, especially during a pandemic, will ruin housing equity and continue to keep stable housing a distant memory on the Jersey Shore.