Thanks to Presbyterian ministries, more people are experiencing a decent place to live
June 3, 2020
For more than a decade, Monica Jones enjoyed her Jersey City, New Jersey, apartment and a good relationship with her landlord.
However, a few years ago Jones’ housing situation began to change. When a new landlord acquired her building, Jones soon started getting notices summoning her to court. At different times, the landlord contended that she had been late with a rent payment, had failed to pay an increased rent charge and/or had failed to pay the rent at all. Other longtime residents of her 18-unit building were having similar experiences.
Jones made repeated trips to court, and each time the allegations were dismissed. While she successfully fended off the legal challenges, Jones was growing weary of the hassle. She was tired of having to take time off from her job with New York City’s city government. She felt alone in her battle and was concerned that one day the landlord might find a way to prevail.
Diane Maxon of Jersey City Together, a group that addresses housing and other community concerns, said Jones’s landlord has a history of forcing people from their building, renovating the structure and raising the rent significantly. The landlord, she said, owns approximately 4,000 apartments in Jersey City.
Maxon, who chairs Jersey City Together’s Tenants’ Rights and Protection Group, said these actions ran afoul of rent control and other housing regulations in Jersey City. However, she said local enforcement officials had largely ignored the violations.
“People were being illegally evicted, and rent was being raised up to three times what the original tenant had paid, which in itself is illegal,” said Maxon. “You can’t just randomly raise the rent just because you have renovated.” She explained the amount of money invested in renovations dictates how much rent can increase.
Jersey City Together is committed to standing up for people trying to maintain a decent and affordable place to live. Gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing are helping the group in this endeavor.
In 2018, Jersey City Together pressed the town’s government to enforce housing regulations more aggressively. The mayor responded by restructuring the board that governs landlord/tenant relations and instituting other reforms related to tenant protection. Maxon is hopeful these moves will make a difference.
Located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Jersey City has seen a dramatic increase in high-income families moving there from New York. They are attracted to Jersey City’s newly renovated apartments, which are pricey but still much less expensive than comparable units in Manhattan. Maxon said this has created a housing shortage for middle- and low-income people.
Jersey City Together strives to amplify the voices of people in vulnerable housing situations. When Jones made her most recent appearance in court, after receiving notice that she was to vacate her apartment in three days, Jersey City Together organized a group to accompany her and helped her find reasonably priced legal representation. Previously, she had had to face the legal system alone. This time she came armed with more knowledge of the law and the presence of Jersey City Together. She was vindicated once again.
“The judge didn’t even spend five minutes on it,” Maxon observed. “It was so ridiculous.” One Great Hour of Sharing gifts are helping Jersey City Together pay the partial salary of a second organizer, which Maxon said is greatly needed. “There are so many things to do and so little time and money,” she said. “This grant has really facilitated us moving forward and making a difference, and we are eternally grateful for that.”
In Durham, North Carolina, One Great Hour of Sharing gifts are helping efforts to build more affordably priced housing in the city’s urban core. Offering gifts are supporting Durham CAN, a coalition of faith-based groups and civic organizations which has persuaded government officials to devote publicly owned land to affordable housing. Already, more than 400 affordable housing units have been built on land provided by the city and county.
Construction on hundreds of additional affordable housing units is expected to begin in late 2020 on 20 acres of abandoned and vacant land acquired by the Durham Housing Authority.
Pat Cole, Special to Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: One Great Hour of Sharing Gifts
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
O Lord, help us to see the light and gifts of others. Teach us as we teach your word and love. Place your strong hands upon us and lead us as we lead your children into a life of compassion and service. Amen.