On June 6th, 2013, the New American Movement team attended the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey’s (HCDNNJ) “Lobby Day”, held at the State House in Trenton, New Jersey. Since we are closely following the affordable housing upheaval, it was certainly necessary for us to join the cause. For anyone who is not familiar with these particular issues, New Jersey struggles to provide affordable and safe housing for its residents. Our lagging economy and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has only aggravated previous circumstances. As a result, many residents are displaced, homeless, awaiting the reconstruction of their homes or are subject to foreclosure and the perils of a crumbling infrastructure. It is evident that a dedicated leadership must be formulated to get back on track and rebuild our depressed state.
The day began with a brief introduction from HCDNNJ staff, which entailed a review of the agenda, key policy priorities, and tips for advocates. The five areas that were emphasized during the discussion are: preserving the state budget and production funding; restoring non-residential development fees; supporting Sandy federal tax relief legislation (ACR193); addressing abandoned property by amending the tax sale law (A.3570/S.2400); as well as reducing the impact of foreclosures. Advocates were encouraged to discuss each matter with their respective legislators in hopes of securing a commitment on the issues or at least another meeting. In order to synchronize our efforts, advocates were assigned to groups that represented their county of residence.
At the conclusion of the introduction, teams dispersed with their “A-Team Chairs” and made their way to scheduled appointments with legislators or followed the committee hearing schedule to locate legislators within their county. The New American Movement teamed up with Vito Gallo, AICP, of Summit, NJ, to establish a connection with Union County legislators. In the morning, the New American Movement, a mother from the group, Midland Parents, and Mr. Gallo, caught Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (District 21) at the Health and Senior Services Committee hearing. While Munoz’s professional experience is not directly related to affordable housing, she is knowledgeable about the general field and expressed her support for the refurbishment of affordable housing initiatives.
During our wait for the following committee meeting, the New American Movement joined the larger group of advocates to participate in an “Insiders View of the State House” which entailed an in-depth discussion of the political process in state government and a touring of pertinent meeting rooms for Senate and Assembly members. Shortly thereafter, the HCDNNJ invited Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey (D-27) and Senator Lesniak (D-20) to our meeting room to comment on our policy priorities. Both officials agreed with our standpoint and emphasized the dire need to rebuild the housing infrastructure of New Jersey. Advocates had the opportunity to take pictures and ask a question here and there.
Lobby Day Activities resumed in the early afternoon in which our team attempted to meet with Senator Lesniak personally at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Unfortunately, we failed to grab his attention because of where we positioned ourselves within the room. To our surprise, Assemblyman Bramnick (D-21) was testifying at the hearing, making it easier for us to grab his attention on his way out. The New American Movement actually had the opportunity to meet with Bramnick’s staff in March 2013 and was ready to reiterate our concerns regarding affordable housing. Bramnick was receptive to our proposals and asked for a folder of materials to review further.
The New American Movement quickly rejoined the larger group at the Housing and Local Government Committee, in which Assemblywoman Quijano (D-20) and Assemblyman Green (D-22) were present to hear the testimony of a variety of groups in favor of revitalizing foreclosed properties, enacting a provision that registers abandoned properties despite foreclosure status, and a tax relief for areas affected by Sandy. The Fair Share Housing Center, who has been instrumental in defending the affordable housing trust fund for municipalities, and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey were among the key testifiers during the hearing. For almost three hours, the meeting consisted of heartfelt stories by many who have been affected by the impacts of Hurricane Sandy, as well as other professionals who provided quantitative data on the benefits of restoring non-residential development fees (creates jobs and assists developers with construction), and why New Jersey needs to better manage the impact of foreclosures.
Overall, the advocates of Lobby Day received positive feedback from their legislators. While legislators acknowledged the lingering difficulties facing many people in our current economy, and agreed that action needs to be taken, the test of time will prove whether or not our voices are truly considered. The budget will be determined within a matter of weeks, meaning that time is of the essence to ensure our interests are represented in government moving forward.