Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More To Follow on Council Meeting

Tuesday's City Council meeting was perhaps the most contentious this year. Speakers called for removal of all new hires in the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and council members promised sharp cuts in the budget. Former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs read out a list of cuts she recommended, but also urged approval of expenses she made in 2013 for a gang workshop and related activities. There was more, all of which was captured on tape for later viewing on television or YouTube. Check the blogs in coming days.

Liberty Village Proposal Rejected Again

The April 7 promise of action on the Liberty Village tax agreement fell through Tuesday when a City Council majority failed to move the item to the agenda for a vote. Council President Bridget Rivers said the governing body needs more information and has until May 31 to make a decision.

The 96-unit subsidized housing complex has a prospective buyer who needs transfer of an existing  "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement in order to proceed and has offered to increase the amount from 6.28 percent to 10 percent of the rent proceeds. The buyer, Liberty Village Estates Urban Renewal LLC,  also proposed electrical and plumbing upgrades, a new community room, a communal laundry and other improvements.

Unless the company can get approvals needed for a HUD contract by May 1, the subsidized housing complex could move to market rate rents, an attorney for the company said at the April 7 meeting where the PILOT resolution lacked consensus to be put on the April 15 agenda. Rivers dismissed the idea of time constraints and said action would be taken at the regular meeting, but numerous speakers last night challenged the proposal. Among them was former Councilman Malcolm Dunn, who served on the Housing Authority when the complex was developed. Dunn urged the council to seek concessions.

Resident Mustapha Muhammad also called for caution, characterizing the deal as "last-minute politics being thrown at you from this administration." Muhammad said it has been eight years since the community room has been used and said, "The owners need to be accountable."

Attorney William Eaton, representing the buyer, enumerated all the proposed improvements including the increased PILOT amount and explained that the current owners, Liberty Community Associates, face expiration of their Section 8 contract. He said he worked with the previous administration last year on the PILOT proposal and with the management to improve their performance score, but Rivers and others on the council insisted they did not have enough information. 

Eaton said he would be happy to meet with them, but the principals were observing a religious holiday and would not be available until Thursday. He said the company owns 6,000 units of affordable housing and will obey a local ordinance that gives city residents first consideration for jobs at the complex.

However, nothing Eaton or the city's Economic Development director, Carlos Sanchez, said persuaded the council to take action Tuesday. 

"This is like a rush, rush, rush," Rivers said. "We have two meetings in May," she added, alluding to what she said was a May 31 expiration of the Liberty Village rent vouchers.

According to a special report of the National Housing Trust on Expiring Section 8 Contracts, the Liberty Community Associates contract expires on May 6.
 Liberty Village Estates Urban Renewal LLC sought the PILOT approval in order to effectuate a May 1 transition. The vote to move the resolution to the agenda Tuesday required five affirmative votes, but only Rebecca Williams, Cory Storch and Tracey Brown voted "yes," with Rivers, Vera Greaves, William Reid and Gloria Taylor voting "no."


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More Apartments, More Inspectors?

This bank of new meters at 109 East Fourth Street reminded me of the fact that almost all the new and proposed housing in Plainfield consists of apartments. That could mean more work for the Inspections Division in several regards.

The city has a number of requirements for multi-family dwellings, as does the state. Many checks are performed at the city level, such as those for tenants' health (presence of vermin), comfort (no heat or hot water) and safety (faulty wiring or other hazards).

The new administration will most likely have to assess the need for more inspectors to perform Certificate of Compliance inspections and such in addition to answering complaints. The division may be due for an assessment of its tasks and how they are currently performed, as well as a projection of greater need for services as more apartments come on line.

The late Mayor Albert T. Williams named Inspections as the division that drew the most citizen complaints. Residents have complained in public comment at City Council meetings that inspectors are either too zealous or too lax. Back when Hank Kita  and Harold Gibson were top officials in the administration, they took the trouble to follow inspectors around in a sort of "time-and-motion" study to see how many inspections could be done in a day, but as I recall, results were inconclusive.

Given the fact that the current mayor formed a transition team to identify issues and suggest solutions, maybe the likely increase in tenants is already in the radar. If not, it's something to look at.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Important Meetings This Week

There are several important meetings this week. here is the lineup:

April 15 - City Council regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court.

If the council approves a "payment in lieu of taxes" transfer to a new owner, 96 residents of Liberty Village in the Fourth Ward will receive amenities including electrical and plumbing upgrades, a community room with computer stations and a card-operated laundry room with 8-10 new machines. The PILOT program dates back to 1979 but must be amended. The prospective new owners, Liberty Village Estates Urban Renewal, intends to pay 10 percent of its annual gross shelter rents to the city instead of the current 6.28 percent. The Housing Authority of Plainfield has the right of first refusal to the sale, but HAP Director Randall Wood stated on April 7 that the authority did not have the $9.2 million to buy the property..

April 15 - Special PMUA meeting, 3 p.m. at 127 Roosevelt Ave.

canceled April 16 - "The First 100 Days" - Mayor Mapp and administration report, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Anne Louise Davis Room, Plainfield Public Library

April 17- Planning Board meeting with Muhlenberg application to relocate satellite emergency department, 7 p.m. in Anne Louise Davis Room at Plainfield Public Library.

Google image
The satellite emergency department would be relocated from the closed Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center building to the Kenyon Building at the corner of Park & Randolph.
The property was subdivided in 2007 (Park & Randolph at lower left on this tax map image). Although activists suspect JFK Health System's next move will be a renewed push to place 600 apartments on the largest parcel, that is not part of this application. However, the Planning Board meeting includes a general comment portion for the public to speak on non-agenda items. Here is the Muhlenberg legal notice.

April 17 - Budget deliberations, Public Affairs & Safety (Police and Fire), 7 p.m. in City Hall Library.

The council and its 2014 Citizens Budget Advisory Committee (Michael Horne, Lydia Sumner-Jones, Delois Dameron, Mustapha Muhammad, Jan Massey, Rashid Burney and Richard Stewart) meet to discuss the two  divisions that make up most of the budget.

Good luck to everybody that wants to keep up with these important meetings. 


Passover Greetings

Chag Sameach
to all our friends and neighbors
who are observing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Do We Want For Plainfield?

The flood of comments to a post on Tuesday appears to have been a fluke, but still the tone of many indicates the need for honest talk about Plainfield.  What kind of city do we have, and is it the kind of city we want?

I have lived here for more than 30 years now, and as a reporter I got to interact with perhaps many more parts of the community than most residents. The majority of Plainfielders, of whatever race or class, get along as neighbors and have a common interest in the betterment of the city. In block associations and other organizations, diverse individuals have no problem joining together for the common good.

But in recent years, I have observed an increase in people drawing distinctions and getting off in their own ideological corners. I think the public comment portion of many City Council meetings would bear that out. Some speakers see plots where there are none. Others fling characterizations that do not exist in fact.

My hope had been earlier this year that the proposed revival of the Human Relations Commission and the Plainfield Advisory Board on Hispanic Affairs might foster greater understanding among city residents in all four wards and of all ethnic backgrounds. However, I have not seen any meeting schedules for these organizations so far (nor for several new boards and commissions). Most of us are very busy with work and family and though we may try to advance harmony in our personal interactions, it is up to some of these appointed groups to take on the general task of helping us all get along.

I hope we will soon hear from these organizations and what they are doing to promote good will among Plainfielders. Many people choose to live here specifically because it is a diverse population, but once factions arise and start drawing lines in the sand, diversity is no longer a good thing. If people feel forced to take sides and show solidarity by condemning "the other," the city suffers.

Perhaps later this year we shall see more of a movement to embrace what we have in common as Plainfielders and leave off the negative race and class distinctions that separate us. Let it be so.


Friday, April 11, 2014