Opportunity New Jersey brought business, community and political leaders together to tackle affordability. It’s not the first time it’s being discussed, but this summit aimed to coming up with concrete solutions.
“The affordability issue, which we’re talking about today, is very prominent which is forcing people out of the state,” according to President and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of Opportunity New Jersey Tom Bracken.
Co-chair Michele Siekerka said there are several key factors.
“Workforce development, we need to ensure that we keep our graduating students in the state of New Jersey today because they are our future workforce of tomorrow. There is a reason we have lost middle class in the state of New Jersey because we’ve lost emphasis on middle level skills and we need more focus on that. Secondly, we need tax reform in the state of New Jersey. Third, we need to invest in infrastructure. All infrastructure across all sectors,” said Siekerka.
Siekerka, who is also president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, reiterated that the state needs a plan.
“I can not find people who are willing to live here. It’s too expensive. We have to fix it,” she said.
Republican candidate for governor Kim Guadagno told the crowd she believes the number one issue is property taxes and says she’s the only candidate with a plan on the issue.
“If you’re running for governor and the number one problem in this state is property taxes, you better have a plan. Let them like it or not. My plan is really quite simple. I’m going to save, on average, $800 for those who need it most,” said Guadagno.
Phil Murphy’s spokesperson Derek Roseman reacted and gave a statement which reads in part, “Kim Guadagno has no credibility on property taxes after standing by Christie’s side while property taxes rose,” adding, “Phil’s commitment to fully funding public education to take the burden off property taxpayers … will do more to help.”
As the people in attendance broke out into groups in order to come up with this concrete agenda addressing affordability, NJTV News interviewed Rev. Deforest Soaries, the pastor of the church where the summit was being held. He said since the 90s the neighborhood has completely transformed.
“Everyone who was here during the bad times was able to stay if they chose to. So, all the new housing has been affordable, but the quality of affordability was such that it increased the value of the properties that were commercial,” said Soaries.
He says to make the state of New Jersey more affordable, this is the key.
“We formed a Community Development Corporation, the church did, whose goal was not profit. There is a part of community development that must be owned and operated by people who don’t need to make money because taking the profits out of the projects created a margin of affordability that otherwise wouldn’t exist, so that’s a part of it. The other part of it was having government and community and corporate partners plan together. Often, corporations will plan what’s best for them. Government will plan based on what’s politically expedient. Community won’t plan at all, so you have these disjointed plans that result in somebody losing,” he said.
A loss the state of New Jersey, Soaries says, can’t afford.