MONTCLAIR, NJ - Dozens of residents gathered on Tuesday at the Wally Choice Community Center to discuss affordable housing in Montclair.

Hosted by the Montclair Justice Coalition, which is a group formed nearly six months ago designed to address diversity and social issues, the panel discussion centered on issues of the affordability of housing, ongoing development and construction of new housing in the Township of Montclair, high rents and the impact on African American families.

William Scott of the NAACP housing committee and Co-chair Montclair Housing Commission, informed residents that there has been a 15% decrease of African American families of low to medium income who have relocated from the Montclair area.

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During the course of the discussion, Councilor Renee Baskerville, a long time resident and 4th ward Councilwoman, expressed grave concern on diversity and community character. She said that she is looking to see what can be done to put a cap on spiraling rents and taxes that effect the senior citizens, long term renters and homeowners. She added that families and individuals that wish to stay or those that decide to move into the Township will also be affected by the affordability of housing in Montclair.

Joining in and sharing information in regard to First Time Home Buyers, Steven Cooper shared information in the understanding of credit and seeking loans in the present housing market in the purchasing of a new home or for one that needs repair.

High rents, inflated home prices and soaring property taxes are driving residents away, threatening the diversity of the community, says panelists. Although concerns were raised, some possible solutions were also offered, such as implementing a town-wide rent control system and creating affordable housing on vacant township-owned land.  

Baskerville and Scott also mentioned the Township Council’s efforts to set aside affordable housing for town residents and municipal employees.

Baskerville said that in speaking with residents there is a common concern. “...a lot of people have those same concerns, about [whether] black and brown people be pushed out of Montclair because the developers are coming in.”   

Scott called Montclair a leader in the area of affordable housing, but stated that there's still work to do. “My only concern is, from a moral standpoint, there’s always room for improvement,” he said.

Scott added that Montclair has an ordinance that requires developers to dedicate a portion of the housing units to affordable housing. He mentioned that 20 percent of the units will be set aside for affordable housing with the council exploring the possibility of at least half of that number dedicated to people employed by the township so that teachers, firefighters and police officers would be encouraged to live in the township that they work in.

Closing out the discussion, Deidre Malloy of HomeCorp shared information on the services provided through the organization in the way of housing assistance and most importantly education. 

As for rent control, Baskerville stated that rent control has been a longstanding concern, but past efforts have not been supported. Councilman Bob Russo, who was also in the audience, stated that there was a referendum that was voted down in the past.

Malloy responded by recommending that the council adopt an ordinance implementing a 4-percent cap on rent increases. 

Also in attendance were Chris Napierala and Albert Pelhem of The Montclair Justice Coalition, a community organization founded October 2016 dedicated to bringing together the full diversity of residents to work towards a hometown that benefits all of its residents.

Panelists concluded the evening and made mention of a series of meetings to be held to continue the discussion of housing, racism and social issues that impact the Township of Montclair. 

The panelists stated that they want people to walk away with information on the affordable housing concerns in Montclair and they also hoped to continue to educate themselves in understanding the issues and concerns as it relates to affordable housing in Montclair.

Two points that all of the panelist echoed, were that they hoped to create a dialogue with those that have a common interest and to also take action to share the residents' concern to make change.


Natalie Heard Hackett contributed to this article.