From the Field: New Jersey Advocates Celebrate Two Affordable Housing Victories

Amidst growing concerns about housing affordability and residential displacement, Newark NJ Mayor Ras Baraka signed two key affordable housing ordinances into law on October 12th. Ironbound Community Corporation, a community empowerment organization based in the multicultural, multiracial Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, played an instrumental role, drafting one of the ordinances, gathering support for it throughout Newark and across the state, and working with Mayor Baraka to ensure its passage.

The first measure will mandate that all housing developers who receive long term tax abatements partner with local minority contractors, provide community jobs, and contribute to Newark’s Community School Trust Fund. The measure is part of a broader effort to empower local Newark contractors to provide local jobs and more fully engage in affordable housing development in the city. The second measure is the “Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing” ordinance—an amendment to Title 41 of the Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations—which will require that 20% of units in new residential developments of 30 units or more be affordable. The affordable units will be reserved for those making between 40% and 80% of the area median income (AMI), with at least 50% of the units being at or below 60% of AMI. Newark residents must be given priority for the affordable units.

The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance also protects against discrimination and the segregation of residents of income-restricted units from residents paying market rent. All affordable units must be integrated among market-rate units and be of equal quality. Advocates also worked with Mayor Baraka’s office to ensure that while some developers may opt to pay into an affordable housing fund in lieu of including affordable homes in their projects, this option is not automatic but instead requires City approval based on specific criteria.

Newark has seen rapid economic development under Mayor Baraka’s term, and these new efforts on the part of the legislature and executive serve as a preventative measures to the kind of displacement experienced by residents in nearby Hoboken and Brooklyn, where property values and rents have risen out of the reach of low and moderate income people.

The ordinances will serve as an example for affordable housing advocates across the country. Unlike inclusionary zoning requirements in other jurisdictions, which often apply in particular areas of the city, the Newark ordinance applies to all new multi-family development regardless of location. This requirement ensures that low and middle income renters have access to all parts of the city and are not concentrated geographically. Legislating that affordable units are integrated throughout a new development further supports renters’ freedom to choose where they live. Mayor Baraka spoke to the exemplary nature of the ordinances, describing them as “a groundbreaking step in housing development in Newark and a pioneering step for all American cities.” The mayor, who has long advocated for affordable housing preservation and who proposed the inclusionary zoning ordinance in February, continued: “Newark is leading the way, defining to the nation how a city cares for its residents.” 

Though much work remains to ensure long-time and lower income residents of Newark are able to remain in the city and see the benefits of continued development, supporters of the ordinances note their significance. “Newark’s revitalization is necessary, but it must uplift, not uproot, its residents in the process and must provide affordable opportunities for residents to remain,” said Ironbound Community Corporation CEO Joseph Della Fava. “Equitable growth and development without displacement require strong grassroots action combined with leadership from City Hall, as this inclusionary ordinance had.  But more is necessary to keep ahead of the market – continued grassroots organizing to protect neighborhoods and city-wide coalitions like Home For All Newark supporting strong rent control.  Like many other issues in Newark, this is a matter of equity and justice for all.”

For more information, contact Ironbound Community Corporation, at Joseph Della Fave at: [email protected]