Saturday, January 12, 2013

Guest of the Stable: Dean Kemph's take on Hoboken rent control wars

The following is strictly political satire and opinion and makes no factual representations. 

Well, it was a rough 2012, Hoboken.  Yet you gamely survived a vicious vortex of destruction which flooded your homes with debris and seemed hell-bent on obliterating everything in its path.  But more about Beth Mason in my next correspondence...

The usual round of holiday parties spawned a surprising number of laments relative to my recent rant-lessness from apparently satirically-starved citizens dismayed that their full array of proxy lightning rods were not up and operational.  So, I'll proffer this short and sweet return to the fray.  The people have spoken. 

Of course, not everyone believes in the concept of a spoken people, particularly those with competing monetary motivations. I received an email yesterday from The Hoboken Fair Housing Association, requesting attendance at a court hearing today, as I write, in Jersey City.  Apparently, one Mr. Ron Simoncini and his Mile Square Taxpayers Association are dissatisfied with the outcome of democratic process, and are challenging the city's recent vote NOT to essentially dismantle Hoboken's rent control laws in favor of increased profits for developers and their allies.  Mr. Simoncini, whose efforts to date in Hoboken have provided a return on investment for his sponsors roughly equivalent to the return Karl Rove offered for his in the last election cycle, seems determined to salvage his diminished rent-control-killing reputation in any available arena, and is employing the tried-but-not-necessarily-true tactic of wearing down a volunteer community advocacy group with time and money. 

Hoboken rent control wars are not movie sexy but
continuing with a court challenge moving ahead.

Many of the people I know in Hoboken are neither tenants nor landlords, and I realized around election time that they might be either under-informed or unfocused on Mr. Simoncini's proposed amendment, which was deceptively worded as a continuation of rent-control protections even as it gutted them.  Among the most nefarious provisions was the complete vacancy decontrol (counteracting measures adopted in response to the notorious arson-for-profit culture of the 70's and 80's) which; coupled with limited penalties and enforcement, would have served as an engraved invitation to expansion of the tenant intimidation which is still a very real problem in Hoboken. I sent out a missive accordingly which validated my perception; there was, in fact, considerable confusion as to the purpose, intent, and likely consequences of this amendment.

Based on the lively response rate, my "readers" were happy to get some additional clarification, history, and opinion.  Naturally, I also got some pushback.  One facebook friend of a friend engaged me in a spirited online debate over the merits of the proposed amendment, in which she patiently assured me that the changes were fair and balanced, although I didn't see anything balanced beyond, perhaps, her own checkbook.  Yes, she admitted, she was a landlord; and yes, she acknowledged she was aware that the property was rent-controlled when she bought it and that undoubtedly factored into the purchase price; but STILL, she would really, really like more money - therefore, this was fair.  She insistently reminded me that laws are MEANT to be changed, and she knew that because she was an ACTUAL ATTORNEY HERSELF.  Oh.  We didn't reach a lot of common ground on this.

And I heard from The Man, himself.  Ron Simoncini.  In a series of emails, he assured me that I was, first, terribly wrong.  Next, that I was a backward individual trying to force Hoboken into a stone-age existence of, I guess, less obscene developer profiteering.  Finally, he assured me that he had virtually everyone's support and smugly, if oddly, declared that I had done so much to help his cause by opposing it that he wished he had recruited me earlier.  I didn't hear from him after the amendment was defeated. 

When I first heard Mr. Simoncini's name, I had pictured some poor schlub living in his basement, trying to put food on the family table, toiling late into the night to organize his beleaguered legion of suffering democracy-be-damned disciples oppressed by the Elite Renting Class while a Wall Street whippersnapper occupied his upper three floors, lighting cigars and snorting cocaine with an endless supply of Ben Franklins while callously boasting of the artificially depressed rent which made it all possible. Was I an ingrate who didn't appreciate Mr. Simoncini's vision of a Hoboken composed exclusively of landlords and market-raters? Could I have been wrong?  Hi Ho Silver, away!  To cyberspace, that vast and fascinating tidbit repository where you can find out exactly how fat or famous your high school prom date has become!  Could it hold some clues for me?  

Well, it turns out that the fearless leader of the Mile Square Taxpayers Association does not, despite his blog self-identifications as "Ron Simoncini from Hoboken" have much to do with Hoboken other than the fees he presumably extracts from his over-commitments to panting property developers.  He reportedly lives in Ridgewood with offices in Secaucus.  While it appears that he has been involved in a number of real estate controversies both in Jersey and across the river, it was Mr. Simoncini's own website which morphed my vision from basement schlub to Napoleon from Animal Farm; finding his balance on two legs while squealing to the farmyard, "Comrades, these rent control amendments are good for everyone - landlords are more equal than tenants, after all".  The centerpiece of his website, in fact the ONLY piece of his website other than contact information, is a delightful animated sketch which serves as the most transparent tribute to greed and community manipulation as operating philosophy that these poor eyes have ever seen.  I was actually pretty astonished.  While you can view it for yourself at axiominc.net, I'm happy to summarize the compelling storyline below.  If Ron decides to remove it, I have the videograb for your viewing pleasure.

The cartoon starts with our hero, Eugene, purchasing a property zoned exclusively for residential use.  No problem, Ron's a phone call away! With Axiom's help, Eugene is able to "convince" opponents and town officials to, literally, allow him to tear up the zoning restriction as a light (from heaven?) shines down upon Eugene and the opposition transforms into a cheering, approving mass.  Eugene is now able to build a "hip hotel, a movie theater and some office space". Axiom then helps Eugene with potential criminal problems which we, again quite literally, watch being swept under a rug. The movie theater debuts with a celebrity-studded crowd and unveils an "awesome new concept" at its opening, which turns out to be "viagra popcorn".  Later, Eugene invites what seems to be a bumbling, inept mayor to come by and plies him with cocktails, at which point "they got to talking about how much better Eugene's apartments would be if only he could get rid of that pesky rent control law."  Yes, that's a direct quote. Pesky. The befuddled, inebriated mayor apparently jumps on board, leaving Eugene a potential marketplace for "a more discriminating group of tenants."  Ah yes.  Finally, Eugene is left with a "tiny" bit of space into which he manages to cram a few unplanned condominium units very quickly; before, apparently, any further objections are raised.  My oh my.  And thank you, Axiom!

I fully agree with Mayor Zimmer that penalties for violations by landlords should be meaningful, not simply cost-of-doing-business annoyances.  And they should be uniformly and consistently enforced, which has never happened before.  Moreover, there should be a formal system of informing new tenants of their rights - too often I've seen landlords take advantage of tenant ignorance.  And I don't dispute that rent control provisions should be revisited from time to time.  But not, please, by the charming Mr. Simoncini, who continues to demonstrate that what is good for Mr. Simoncini is inherently bad for your fair city.  

As always, best of luck to my beloved and adopted Hoboken!

Citizen Dean

Related: The Friday rent control court case challenging the results of ballot question #2 moved was not dismissed and will be heard in Hudson County Superior Court January 26th.  At issue are 92 contested vote-by-mail ballots sufficient to overturn the election results.

The margin of victory with over 16,000 votes cast was 52 votes.


Correction: MSV is being told the next court date is January 22nd.