What Didn’t Happen

            It became official at the 1-21-14 Newark City Council meeting that Mayor Hall had disbanded the Property Maintenance Committee. What didn’t happen? Future meetings of this committee, as well as any recommendations/legislative drafting were not scheduled. Hundreds of outraged citizens did not appear at the Mayor’s residence, or the municipal building, or anywhere else to demand reinstatement of the committee and its work. And finally, living conditions for an uncounted number of tenants did not change, and blighted derelict structures, like the one immediately next door to the municipal building, did not suddenly go away or become un-blighted. What did happen? A lot of buzz was generated.


            Wikipedia describes buzz as “the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which serves to amplify the original marketing message, a vague but positive association, excitement, or anticipation about a product or service.” Considering what didn’t happen, this sounds “right on the money” (with the emphasis on money). Joe Williams’ headline in the 1-22-14 Newark Advocate bears this out “Property maintenance remains priority, despite differing viewpoints”.


            Analysis has looked at Newark’s property ownership/maintenance issue repeatedly in past blog postings. This latest incident, with its plethora of non-happenings, definitely calls for critical inquiry, what inquiring minds need to know. Imagining a survey of inquiring minds within the Hall administration/city council would be a non sequitur. It would, however, be interesting to ask how many folks within the Hall administration (including the mayor himself) as well as the City Council are residential tenants (rent or lease), and how many are owner occupants? What has dogged any regulation/enforcement of property maintenance has been claims of discrimination regarding these two (owner occupants should be as liable for their properties as landlords for rentals, etc.). What has dogged any legislation regulating rentals, their registration/licensing, and conditions has likewise been this very same fear of discrimination; rental properties are interspersed among owner occupied properties, what applies to one ought to apply to the other. Is that valid? Is that an imagined fear or a justified concern?


            License and responsibility. One receives a license to drive (commercial or private) after passing a test, paying a fee and meeting the obligations and responsibilities legislated to regulate this area of commerce. These responsibilities include being current with contemporary traffic rules, obeying them, and maintaining the vehicle one uses, insuring it, etc. Commercial use of real estate, as well as most businesses, is already regulated by the state as well as municipalities in terms of building construction, inspections, location (zoning), etc. This is not breaking news. There are “grey” areas, such as farming, home businesses, mobile businesses (a licensed hot dog vendor located on the Grill’s real estate, which is the right of way of the public sidewalk, at lunch time, would definitely create more than a buzz). City council and past administrations have conscientiously kept residential real estate rental in this “grey” area. A community garden is not really a farm; so I guess it’s alright to have one in town (though some of the folks involved may be earning a living directly or indirectly from its production). Selling Mary Kay from home (or real estate, stocks, DJ services, decorated cakes, etc.) does not generate traffic concerns or parking requirements or … so I guess it’s alright (as long as the advertising is kept discrete). The city administration’s/council’s disposition toward residential property rental has been ditto. This completely ignores the fact that the city of Newark has one of the highest (if not the highest) non-owner occupant residential housing in the state (around 43%). It is probably one of the largest businesses in Newark (especially if conjoined with commercial property rental). Which brings us back to the imagined survey, and what wasn’t asked. How many of the folks in the Hall administration, as well as City Council, own some of that rental property (commercial or residential) — outright, partially (in partnership) or have some vested interest (as shareholders, part of their “investment portfolio”)? Is it any wonder that what didn’t happen, actually took place?


            A priority for the “new” Newark City Council should be to legislate a binding declaration designating that ALL real estate rentals within the fair City of Newark are a business. Take it out of the grey, “Oh, I guess it’s alright” area and give it defined legal status (which is what legislated action is defined as doing). This would be an excellent first step, one that for sure would have the backing of the pro-business community since it would help swell their ranks.


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