Affordable Housing Insanity: In Jersey City, You Can Be Too Poor To Be Poor

skyline of Jersey City, New Jersey
Jersey City Skyline photo by drocpsu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jersey City, where regulations lead to ludicrous results.

Too rich to be poor? Now that’s a concept that’s easy to understand.

Too poor to be poor? In all the world, it’s apparently only possible in Jersey City, New Jersey, where it exists in violation of America’s national ‘redlining’ act, which prohibits discrimination based on income.

So just how does a person get to be ‘too poor to be poor?’ It’s a crazy product of affordability crisis management that is accidentally (or possibly cleverly) designed to exist on paper, but not fact.

That kind of management has become an element of public private partnerships (PPPs), which are designed to sidle at affordable housing construction, rather than approaching the problem directly.

PPPs are a feature of the last three decades, when governments have been banned or discouraged from directly building affordable housing due to their supposedly inbuilt incompetence matched up with decisions to curb government spending.

Free market-oriented private enterprise, by comparison, is deemed to be highly capable of building free market housing with one hand, while also whipping up a small desert of affordable housing with the other. (Whoops, we meant to say ‘dessert’ but the spell checker might have revealed the way it really is!)

With PPPs blessed as the solution, ‘small government’ entities sidle towards affordable housing, and jurisdictions at all levels looked to utilize this framework.

So when a city like Jersey City says, “over to you, PPP,” it may propose a building partnership in which the ‘public’ city contributes to the ‘private’ developer something ranging from permission to build at the least, through tax credits or free land, all the way up to cash dollars.

In the case of Jersey City, the quid pro quo for an ’80/20′ percent partnership is that one house in every five the PPP builds is to be ‘affordable.’

After that, it seems like Jersey City does not particularly care how the term ‘affordability’ is stretched and twisted like pizza dough.

One current result in Jersey City is an arcane but undoubtedly profitable way of thinking and acting that uses a suitably putty-like definition of ‘affordability’ to exclude a class of people ‘too poor to be poor.’

Not only that, sanity is stretched to require a means test on an annual basis, to make sure that PPP-project affordable housing residents have not indeed slipped from a class allowably rich enough to be poor, into a lower, undesirable class destined for eviction: those who have become too poor to be poor.

Read more about how this unthinkable nonsense can happen, together with questions about its legality at NJ.com: How Affordable Is Jersey City’s Affordable Housing?