Two Wednesdays ago, Hoboken’s City Council voted unanimously to hold a Lottery. They didn’t admit it was a Lottery – they called it “Workforce Housing” – but it was a Lottery all the same. The prizes? Five lucky winners will get half million dollar discounts off the purchase price of their new condos. The ticket price? Free, so long as you’re already lucky enough to have a job with the city, the Housing Authority or Hoboken schools. How do the rest of us (and the unlucky city, housing or school employees) benefit from this give-away? We don’t.
Something is wrong with this picture. The city lacks the funds to complete the public space at 1600 Park Avenue. We can’t afford to stop the flooding in the southwest. We’re $11 million short on last year’s budget and borrowing at 5 percent tax-free just to keep afloat. Property taxes will soon skyrocket and lay-offs loom. And the council votes unanimously to give away the equivalent of $2,500,000.00?!?
They have their reasons. “It’s for the employees” they say. But really, do we treat our public employees so badly that a lucky five need a half million dollar windfall? I don’t think so, but if you do, wouldn’t it be better to sell those units at fair market value and put the $2.5 million toward giving all of them a raise or keeping 50 of them from being laid off for a year?
As for me, I’d rather put the $2.5 million to work for all Hobokenites. Easy ways to do that include building a field at 1600 Park, investing in our infrastructure, improving in-Hoboken transportation or even paying down our high-interest debt. Alternately, if we really wanted to keep the units as affordable housing, we could give them to the Housing Authority as transitional or emergency rentals which could be rented to needy Hobokenites and provide a benefit forever.
If this boondoggle were the exception it could be ignored. But it’s no exception. Instead it caps a year of fiscal mismanagement so blameworthy that state oversight is almost looked on as a blessing. Hoboken is a wealthy town but as recent events have shown, greed, mismanagement, and staggering ineptitude can make the mighty fall. We can and must do better.