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Apartment Association cheers conditional veto on rent control

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A bill that sought to ease restrictions on local rent control may result in only a review of how the policy is applied to senior housing in New Jersey, following Gov. Chris Christie's conditional veto this week of the controversial measure.

The legislation called for lifting a ban on municipal rent control for senior housing projects built after 1987, originally part of a larger effort to spur new multifamily development. But the bill was fiercely opposed by the apartment industry, and Christie on Monday declined to sign it, pointing to concerns that rent control "distorts the market for rental housing and depresses the housing supply, thus leading to an overall rise in rent."

"Therefore, while I support the sponsors' intent to protect the economic circumstances of senior citizens, it is not clear that this bill will have the desired impact," he wrote in his conditional veto message. Instead, he recommended the Department of Community Affairs study how local rent control for senior housing impacts the supply and operator costs.

Conor Fennessy, the New Jersey Apartment Association's vice president for government affairs, said the group was pleased with the outcome despite having preferred an absolute veto. He also said the alternative recommended by Christie could be useful to their cause.

"We think a study like that is important, because for local officials, legislators and renters, this fallacy that rent control is affordable housing policy … could be put to rest by this study," Fennessy said. He added that rent controls made it difficult for privately financed apartment buildings to operate and for new projects to obtain financing, whereas government-sponsored affordable housing can rely on subsidies to keep rents low.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), originated with concerns over a senior housing rent increases in his home district. The bill was sent to Christie's desk in July, and Vitale at the time said critics were overstating the bill's impact.

Only about 100 of the state's more than 500 municipalities have rent control ordinances.

Whether the study recommended by Christie will actually happen is unclear. That would require the Legislature to concur with his conditional veto, and the legislation passed by slim margins in both chambers.

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