Friday, November 13, 2009

Discussion on Rent Control - Delivered Vacant Screening

Update 11/13/2009: Rent control is a very emotional topic for some and I implore my readers to show restraint from making personal attacks regardless of what side of the issue you are on. Remember the adage: "Don't feed the Trolls". While I don't believe in free markets running unfettered and uncontrolled, my own experience as a condo owner highlights some deficiencies in the current rent control system. Let me be clear that the statewide protection for seniors in a condo conversion from being evicted is a very good thing from a social perspective. However there are some real disincentives built in that penalize sponsors in such conversions. I guess that makes me somewhat of a "middling" on this issue.

I know some may be annoyed by the anonymous comments but I have decided for now to leave the comments open so that newer readers can participate. It does make it better for the conversation to get people to sign up so here once again is a tutorial I created to assist in that process.

As for me, my story as the first purchaser in a Condo conversion from the Sponsors can be best described as "Delivered 5/9 ths Vacant". I was the first buyer in a partially vacant condo (9 units total) conversion and purchased my modest 800 sq. ft. condo in 2005. Before I signed on the dotted line, I had some concerns about the partial nature of the conversion. The hallways and exterior needed much work as well as the electrical needed an upgrade from PSE&G. The Sponsors sandblasted the front and upgraded the electrical and at my urging funded the Condo with a capital improvement fund for the rest of the work I had estimated. At that point I was ready to close.

After about 10 months of gut rehabilitation I was finally able to move in to my new condo in June of 2006. The process should have been quicker but between a bad contractor and numerous inspections I was finally able to get my "Certificate of Occupancy" and move in. This process is not for the faint of heart, I can assure you. Once I moved in, as Condo President with help of two other owners and I was able to focus on the remaining capital improvements from new lights, smoke detectors, security cameras, hallway floors redone, hallways repainted, back of building repainted and reappointed, chimney repairs, new cellar windows, new door buzzers intercom, new locks, new roof and other minor repairs. The building has since went from poorly maintained to well maintained and everyone, whether owner, investor/sponsor or renter has benefitted from these improvements.

The Sponsors were able to sell 5 units of the 9 in the building. Due to current rent control rules and the way they filed the tenants are allowed to stay there until they move out. In other situations tenants can stay for 3-4 years if non-seniors. For those remaining four units, the sponsors can recoup improvements made to individual units but can't recoup increases in maintenance or increases in taxes. Perhaps the sponsors are not aware of what is available to them for relief but that is how it was explained to me. I am lucky in that the Sponsors of my unit have been responsive in accepting maintenance increases and a special assessment for the roof, but I feel they should be able to pass on tax increases as well as maintenance increases to the tenants. After all, the tenants have benefitted from the improvements in the building. I wonder if other owners in partial conversions have had similar luck with their sponsors.

I don't have all the answers but just wanted to add that perspective into the mix. In my situation no one has been forced out on the street, owners have recieved value, sponsors have at least broken even ( in my estimation), renters have improved conditions, and the City of Hoboken has more tax revenue. So it seems like a win-win-win-win. However, in a down market, can this sucess story repeat itself? Rent Control has some merit but needs to be looked into. That is the pragmatist in me coming out.

Update 11/9/2009: Just this last Saturday night, at around 7:40PM, the documentary "Delivered Vacant" was shown at Stevens Burchard Auditorium to a packed house. Congratulations to Geri Fallow for organizing this screening as well as her success in fundraising for next year's "Movies under the stars".

Filming for this movie began in 1984, several years after the ring of arson fires in Hoboken. The movie focuses on the political and social aftermath of those fires and the effect it had on Hoboken citizens as well as developers. The documentary is very well done as it gets many points of view and puts them together in a cohesive chronological narrative. The issue shown in this film are still very relevant today albeit perhaps with a different demographic and housing stock than was in the film at the time it was made.

Nora Jacobson, the film's director and creator was available after the screening for a Q&A session. One of the revelations from her answers was that she did not have a difficult time getting access or cooperation for the most part getting her footage. She also stated that the film took long to make due to funding problems. The film was shot in 16 mm film and was finally released in 1992.

Nora currently lives in Vermont and has several documentaries she is working on at this time. Below is information on how to get a dvd copy of the movie.

Here is Nora Jacobson's website:

Link to purchase the film Delivered Vacant: I have ordered the movie via this method over the summer but waited to view the movie for the first time during this screening.

Original Post:Below is information on the screening of the documentary Delivered Vacant which probes into the gentrification and fires in Hoboken during the 80's.

Projected Images of Hudson County presents

Delivered Vacant
a film by Nora Jacobson

Sat. Nov. 7th, at 7:30pm (Tonight!)
Burchard Auditorium
Campus of Stevens Institute of Technology
6th & River Terrace

Admission is $10.
Proceeds will go to support
the Hoboken Movies Under the Stars series for 2010.

for more info call 201-217-4077

Hoboken is accessible by PATH, NJ Transit trains and buses, NY Waterway ferries
and the Hudson Bergen Lightrail. Burchard Auditorium is just 7 blocks from PATH.

co-sponsored: by Stevens Institute of Technology
and The Hudson County Division of Cultural & Heritage Affairs

Funding has been made possible in part by a Block Grant from the State/County Partnership Program for the Arts administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural & Heritage Affairs, Tom DeGise, County Executive & the Board of Chosen Freeholders

Delivered Vacant, an eight-year chronicle of housing gentrification in Hoboken. An intricate and deeply human portrait of the city and the people that lived there, the film went on to play at the New York Film Festival, Sundance, and the San Francisco Film Festival where it garnered a Golden Gate Award.

Naples on the Hudson to some, a square mile of prime real estate to others. From boom in the 80s to bust in the 90s, this dramatically engrossing documentary features a real-life cast of long-time residents, newly arrived yuppies, tenant organizers, real estate developers, street people & immigrants from around the world including the wackiest Mayor in America.

Hailed by Vincent Canby of The New York Times as "a fine, rich film ... an urban epic."

This award-winning documentary chronicles 8 years of housing wars in Hoboken, NJ, a mile-square city across the river from Manhattan.

-New York Film Festival
-Sundance Film Festival
-Golden Gate Award, San Francisco Int'l Film Festival


Fred Lombardi, Variety, October 19, 1992:
"Producer-director Nora Jacobson keeps this bit of social history vibrant with a lively assortment of characters and an involving battle over displacement of residents."

Vincent Canby, The New York Times, October 10, 1992:
"Delivered Vacant' is a story of greed, hope, political action, bewilderment, free enterprise, idealism and rampant urban epic"

Dave Kehr, NY Daily News, August 6, 1993:
"...Nora Jacobson's 'Delivered Vacant' is a documentary that puts many Hollywood epics to shame in terms of its scale, substance and intricacy of storytelling."

Gene Seymour, New York Newsday, October 10, 1992:
"...we now have one of the best and most touching histories we may ever get of what happened to America in the last decade....this richly detailed saga of urban transition...comes close enough to be ranked with books like J. Anthony Lukas' 'Common Ground.' It's that good."

Amy Taubin, The Village Voice, June 1, 1993:
"An '80s gentrification saga with the scope and detail of a 19th century novel, Nora Jacobson's Delivered Vacant has the charm but none of the smart-ass posturing of Roger and Me....more involving than the most impassioned agitprop or well-balanced PBS documentary....Jacobson has an amazing ability to get people to reveal themselves on camera..."

My comment: Sources I have indicate that Dave Roberts during his tenure of Mayor for 8 years never wanted this film to be shown in Hoboken and it wasn't. That fact alone makes it a must see for any reform minded citizen of Hoboken. ◦