By Jaimie Julia Winters
A survey launched in December on whether Montclair should implement rent control will remain open until the end of the year as the NAACP seeks more input from the renters that make up 42 percent of the town.
As of this week only 123 voted – with 97 in favor of rent control and 26 not – on the survey at PlanetCivic.com. The group seeks 500 responses.
The issue of rent control in Montclair has been ongoing for about 30 years with several attempts to implement it failing, said William Scott, chairman of the local NAACP’s Housing Committee.
“U.S. Census data found that, as of 2015, 35 percent of Montclair tenants pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, which state and federal guidelines characterize as a cost burden situation,” said Scott. “Annual rent increases, as an example, could equal to the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, but not to exceed five percent.”
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One survey commenter in favor of rent regulation said her landlord increased her rent from $1,000 a month to $1,600 with a one-month notice, “stating that repairs need to be done.
“This just can’t be legal,” the commenter said.
In 1979, a rent control plan was voted down by Montclair residents, 62 percent to 38. A housing survey conducted about 30 years ago after the Bay Street Station was built in 1981 and the area was becoming gentrified suggested that rent stabilization be investigated. A special referendum failed again in 1986.
In 2004, a recommendation was pulled from the 2004 Montclair Affordable Housing Strategy Plan, said Scott.
Renters who experience a large jump in rent can now take their concerns to a landlord-tenant committee. But with only about a dozen complaints lodged a year and on many issues, Scott believes renters are not filing complaints when landlords raise rents above the norm of four percent.
Scott believes rent stabilization is not being advocated for because 50 percent of rentals are owner-occupied, and the realtors see a good rental market with almost half of the housing stock rentals. But with Montclair going through a development boom, Scott said it’s time to revisit the issue.
Survey commenter Michael Stahl said he believed rent control “would crush a small property owner.”
“I think enforcing the affordable requirements is a better solution, as builders can add that to their calculus when starting a development,” Stahl said.
Scott points to neighboring towns such as Bloomfield and South Orange, where rents cannot be raised by more than four percent by ordinance.
The 2000 Census concluded that the average Montclair rental was priced at $866 then. An analysis done in 2009 by the town’s affordable housing commission to update Montclair’s housing strategy stated that a survey of 100 rentals offered from January through October resulted in the medium rent of $1,496.
The Census’ most recent numbers taken from 2012 to 2016 have the median rent at $1,422, with the US average at $946. Thirty-nine percent of renters pay 30 percent or more of their income toward rent, according to the Census.
The survey asks:
• Are Montclair renters cost burden and need relief in the current rental market in Montclair?
• Should Montclair enact rent control regulation as other cities such as Caldwell, Cedar Grove, South Orange, Verona, West Orange and Bloomfield in Essex County have done?
• Should Township of Montclair update and enforce Montclair’s Current Multifamily Building Ord. No. 213-01, to include information on the rental unit’s square feet, number and type of rooms, cost, amenities and latest certificate of habitability?
The group is also concerned with illegal rental dwellings that may not be registered and therefore inspected by the township for safety issues.
“As Chair of the Montclair NAACP Housing Committee, we have been asked to assess these questions before moving this issue to a community workshop event and Town Council,” Scott said.
Scott believes the towns biggest concern should be for its seniors that want to age in place.
“They should not have to decide between food or healthcare over rent,” he said.
The NAACP is working with the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee to get the word out to that demographic.
The link to vote is on planetcivic.com. The site will require registration to ensure that only Montclair residents participate in the survey.