In the seaside city of Asbury Park, New Jersey, where over three-quarters of occupied homes are rentals, rent control is a significant, complex – and often contentious – issue. Early in 2021, just as the City Council unanimously adopted a REALTOR®-supported ordinance that would permit vacancy decontrol while enacting rent controls on properties with five or more rental units, a local affordable housing coalition submitted a ballot initiative to overturn it in favor of a broader rent control policy that would not permit vacancy decontrol. With help from an Issues Mobilization Grant, the state and local REALTOR® associations responded by creating a ballot question committee urging voters to uphold the original ordinance.
Bruce Shapiro, New Jersey REALTORS® Director of RPAC & Regulatory Affairs, explains that the state association and the local Monmouth Ocean Regional REALTORS® had worked closely to support the Asbury Park City Council’s less restrictive ordinance, which they felt achieved balance and compromise for all the stakeholders involved. “We understand the community’s need for affordable housing, but we also have to be sure that rental regulations aren’t an unfair burden to the community’s mom-and-pop landlords. By exempting properties with fewer than five units and allowing for rents to be re-set to market rate between tenants, the ordinance the City Council had approved protected these vulnerable property owners, which is at the heart of our values as REALTORS®,” he says. The preponderance of larger apartment buildings in Asbury Park would be subject to rent control protections, defending the lion’s share of the municipality’s tenants from unregulated rent hikes.
Because the opposition posed a significant threat, the REALTORS® turned to the REALTOR® Party for help. They launched a campaign of targeted online ads that linked to a dedicated website; a “ballot-chase” phone call program following up with voters who had requested mail-in ballots; and four direct mail pieces all aimed at convincing voters 1) to vote and 2) to maintain the ordinance that the City Council had already approved. “Using the Issues Mobilization Grant and working with the REALTOR® Party vendors on this campaign was a tremendous benefit,” says Shapiro. “Their guidance and advice on our messaging was beyond what we could have asked for, and certainly helped to secure our win by nearly a two-to-one margin.” He notes that other municipalities in the county should look to Asbury Park’s original rent control ordinance as a model, especially now that its provisions have been affirmed by the voters, as well as the lawmakers. While the Council has since amended its original ordinance, it is still a better ordinance than what was proposed by the local coalition.
“The members of the Monmouth Ocean Regional REALTORS® are very happy that we’re engaged on an issue that is so important to them and their communities, and that we went to the lengths that we did,” he reports. There’s no question: we couldn’t have done it without the help of the REALTOR® Party.”
To learn more about how New Jersey REALTORS® is helping to protect the rights of small landlords and other property owners in places like Asbury Park, contact Bruce Shapiro, Director of RPAC & Regulatory Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609.341.7113.