Our government run social safety net system was created to use government to help people in need ascend out of the immediate and temporary problems they were confronted with towards self-sufficiency. It failed. From the inherent problems of a functional monopoly with an institutional incentive to regulate competing models out of business rather than out-serve them on a level playing field to the intrinsic desire of status quo politicians to create long term stable voting blocs to support their eternal re-election campaigns, the government social safety net system has always faced many existential issues which undermine its original and noble purpose.
One such example, and a local one that relates to our city, is the public housing authority aka the projects. Our fellow citizens living in the projects are served by a system in dire need of reform. This is not to impugn the residents, nor the trustees and staff, but it is an indictment of a system that de-facto warehouses people and is intuitionally ripe for abuse. The projects are governed by a board of commissioners appointed by a mix of the mayor, city council, and the state government who together hires a director. Each one of these people have to fight the urge to use their position as the de-facto mix of condo-board, landlord, and mini-government of the projects to build a political base. Aside from the ever-present danger that the politicization of the basic needs and services for our fellow Hobokenites represents, there have been few residents of the projects on the board, further infantilizing residents as wards of the board for the political leadership care for.
Across the country this system of patronage has created a disincentive for the political appointees who run public housing to engage with residents as stakeholders as well as to attempt to give a hand up rather than a hand out. The system needs transformation in order to achieve its original goal. That reform is a Community Land Trust (CLT). A CLT is a non-profit that seeks to keep lower income housing in perpetuity, maintaining that safety net for those economically less fortunate, while at the same time allowing its members to strive for more while taking a leadership role in their own destiny. CLT’s have a co-owning model, not dissimilar from co-opts or condo associations, in which they the own land and residents can own the housing unit they live in. CLT’s keep units for rent substantially below market rates for the working class as well as offer to sell units to their current residents as highly discounted and low rates (as has been done in public housing in Britain). The then owners of a unit can sell it onwards at a CLT agreed upon formula which keeps the unit significantly under the market rate but allows the selling resident to make a small profit. This keeps units affordable and allows residents more opportunities to build a better future.
Just an importantly, CLT’s destroy the ability of local political factions or a potentially bad board member from using their influence for political gain by having a board that is made up of CLT residents (unit owners and renters) and neighboring community members. It integrates, rather than segregates, the CLT residents into the local neighborhood community by building bridges across economic divides and communities and it empowers the residents to be the stakeholders they can be when not being lorded over by political appointees.
The path to transform Hoboken’s projects to a Community Land Trust will be long and arduous. It will not be easy as partisans often fight for the status quo but building a better city for all is why I’m running for City Council.
Joshua Einstein is the independent candidate for Hoboken City Council, the Republican State Committeeman from Hudson County, a member of the Hudson County Regional Jewish Council, and has been published in over 13 papers and websites.