Councilman Explains Occupancy Law Abstention
Jonathan Nelson voted neither yes nor no to a plan to add a waiver process to the anti-stacking law, but he says he had good reason to abstain.
The amendment to the township's maximum occupancy ordinance, approved by the Township Council on Feb. 12, gave Councilman Jonathan Nelson a great deal of pause, he said.
Three members of the governing body voted in favor of the Barberio admnistration proposal, which imposes limits on how long guests can stay in tenants' rental units and sets up a waiver process to protect families having new babies and tenants with legitimate reasons to run afoul of the ordinance-mandated occupancy limit. Councilmember Paul Carifi Jr., who ran for office as a staunch opponent of so-called stacking, voted no.
Nelson made a decision to abstain. He told Patch he had strong reason for doing so.
The councilman said he was opposed to what was proposed and therefore decided that he could not vote yes.
"The ordinance was unnecessary," he said, adding that it was clear the measure was put into place because of actions by the Housing Department. "Because of the way in which certain cases have been handled by the Housing Department in the past year, there needs to be a mechanism in place to protect couples giving birth to their first child. But this heavy-handed ordinance was not the right answer."
He said he saw the proposal as a means for the administration to address a real problem, but said it was a well-intentined effort that missed dealing with what he saw as the real issue: how the department deals with tenants and occupancy violation cases.
"The original stacking ordinance should have addressed couples with newborn children [directly]," he said. "There was no hurry to rush this waiver ordinance through."
Earlier drafts of the ordinance gave the discretion regarding tenant cases to Housing Director Rena Plaxe, a controversial figure throughout the occupancy law debate. She was mentioned numerous times as the source of cruel treatment and insensitivity by some residents who received eviction notices in 2012. The Barberio administration has remained silent on the issue of Plaxe's job performance and her alleged mistreatment of some apartment tenants.
Under the law just approved, leadership over the waiver process goes to Planning, Zoning and Construction Director Jennifer Collins, not to the Housing Department. Nelson said he understood the move, but could not support a law being enacted for the purpose of sidestepping an issue rather than dealing with the matter head on.
At the same time, Nelson said he could not in good conscience cast a no vote.
"It was important to acknowledge the need for protection for residents," he said. "There needs to be a mechanism in place to protect couples with infant babies from overzealous employees. The waiver ordinance is not the answer, but something needs to be done."
He said a no vote would have obscured that point.
"That is why I abstained."