Baraka, Chaneyfield Jenkins battle over inclusionary zoning at council meeting

Mayor Ras Baraka and Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins faced off today during a City Council meeting over an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins engaged in a verbal duel at Wednesday's council meeting on an issue that will shape the state of the city's ongoing redevelopment: inclusionary zoning for future building projects.

"There are inclusionary zoning ordinances all over the country, and not in one place has it stopped market rate development," Baraka said, commenting on the debate over an city ordinance that would compel developers to set aside a percentage of new residential units as affordable housing.

"Five years ago, we weren't able to have this discussion because development wasn't happening at this rate in Newark, but now it is," Baraka said. "And since Newark is not Brooklyn or Jersey City, then we have to do something different."

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"A lot of this has to do with the Central Ward, and I want to make sure that we have a public-private partnership doing this," said Chaneyfield Jenkins, who represents the ward that is in many ways ground zero for Newark's redevelopment. "[The proposed ordinance] is not a panacea to address low-income housing. When we talk about affordable housing, let us be specific."

"Given the market rate in the Central Ward and [the city's Ironbound neighborhood], the people who live there will be pushed out. We have to be in front of the market, not behind," Baraka said. "That's our responsibility, to do right by our people." 

The original inclusionary zoning and affordable housing ordinance proposed in June would amend the city's land use law to oblige that 20 percent of units in residential projects of 30 units or more be restricted to people making not more than 80 percent of the median income for the region.

The city council, which passed the ordinance on first reading in June after months-long clashes between housing advocates, developers, and city politicians, failed to adopt the measure in July. The tabling of the ordinance stemmed from confusion over what the provisions of the ordinance entailed. After review, the council voted 7-0 on Wednesday to move the amended measure forward past communication to the first reading once again at the next council meeting.

Chaneyfield Jenkins, citing her previous concerns, abstained. 

The public airing of their difference was a continuation of a debate that unfolded on TAPintoNewark in the last week, in which Chaneyfield Jenkins and affordable housing advocates wrote dueling opinion-editorials.

Baraka, a strong advocate of inclusionary zoning and affordable housing, and Chaneyfield Jenkins, who voted against the ordinance last month citing "gaps" regarding what comprises affordable housing, argued over the perceived lack of clarity regarding the measure.

"The new legislation talks about the number of units to be created for people who make less than $30,000 to be only five percent," Chaneyfield Jenkins said.

"Well then, if you think that number is too low, raise it to 10 percent," Baraka retorted. "Raise it."

"I want to understand what I'm voting for before I vote for it," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "I didn't understand it."

"That's disingenuous. You can't say that," Baraka said. "It's been on [the digital ordinance file] Legistar for months and months. That's your responsibility to read it."

Chaneyfield Jenkins also raised questions about who would be the beneficiary of inclusionary zoning. 

"Who does inclusionary zoning include? Who profits from that? It could mean more affordable units in a segregated area," she said.

Baraka and Chaneyfield Jenkins demonstrated no discernible evidence that they will agree on the terms of the inclusionary zoning and affordable housing ordinance anytime soon.

"This isn't going to happen voluntarily. We can't go to [U. S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Ben Carson to do it," Baraka said, a reference to what the mayor views to be a federal administration hostile to urban issues, led by President Donald Trump. 

"We can't ask [Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil] Murphy to do it," Baraka said. "We have the authority to do it, so let's just do it. This is the right thing to do. Principally, we need to pass this." 

"Principally, we need to pass the right kind of legislation," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "That's our responsibility."

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