Mason: Affordable condo controversy
Here’s a juicy one for you this morning.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason forwarded a letter to Hoboken411 outlining her concerns about a plan to provide new “affordable” condos exclusively to city employees, and an effort to keep discussion of this behind closed doors and out of the view of the public.
The condos would be sold at a discounted rate to five city employees by Dean Geibel’s Metro Homes at the MetroStop high-rise. Mason says she received an e-mail from Geibel’s development attorney James Burke explaining how he would like to set up meetings with “2-3 council members at one time” which he described as “efficient but would not violate the open public meetings act.”
That “Sunshine Law” says any meeting of five council members in a room constitutes a meeting that should be noticed to the public. Instead of holding an open public meeting to discuss the ramifications of a developer offering five condo units at a discount to the city to sell to it’s hand-picked buyers, the administration of Mayor David Roberts is trying to bring the council members into his office in small groups to hear the pitch. These are known as “running meetings”, and are set up to circumvent the “Sunshine Law.”
Secret Meetings, Secret Decisions
Holding running meetings in the Mayor’s office with small groups of selected council members allows the administration to “lean on” the council and discuss things that should rightfully be done in a public meeting in a private setting. In the past, meetings like these have allow some council members to wheel and deal their votes for something the administration wants. It also allows the administration to split up the opposition to pressure the minority to vote in their favor. This case is even more alarming because it involves a concept that at best is ripe for favoritism, and at worst may be illegal: making a deal with a developer for cut-rate condos for insiders.
Who gets these “Affordable Condos?”
Over the years there have been no shortage of stories about how people connected to city government have gotten special treatment and access to affordable housing. The politically active can be rewarded with the best apartments in public housing as well as government subsidized rentals like Marine View. Some grow vast wealth in their “affordable” apartments while newly hired teachers, cops and firemen sit on waiting lists for years.
In her letter to Council President Nino Giacchi, Mason says the Roberts administration continues to “circumvent the law with regard to transparency”, and that she believes the “issue of affordable housing is an important discussion that should take place in full view of the public.” Mason writes that she has spoken with attorneys who deal with state affordable housing law and they say they don’t know how the COAH law would allow city employees to leapfrog past people on waiting lists.
Read much more about this in the letter and share your thoughts in the comment section!