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1921: Jersey City Under Commission Government
A Book of Achievement

The Rent Situation

This Web version:

HORTLY after the beginning of the European war rent profiteering, which had become common in every congested community, broke out in Jersey City and multiplied with such rapidity that it was forcing actual hardships upon the citizens of Jersey City. As Commissioner Cannon had previously expressed himself on the subject in an endeavor to get legislation in Trenton to stop rent profiteering, complaints were naturally filed with him by the tenants who were the victims. Property was changing hands over night and with every change a notice to quit or pay more rent was given. In some cases the tenants had paid as many as nine increases in twelve months.

In January, 1920, after Commissioner Gannon had given several warnings in the public press to rent profiteers, the situation became very acute and was about approaching a crisis. Five thousand families in Jersey City had notices to quit on the first of the following February. Every available housing quarter in Jersey City was taken and those of the 5,000 who would or could not pay increased rents were to vacate to make room for the influx of foreign population from surrounding communities who were employed in Jersey City and whose families were flocking here by the thousands.

The Rent Strike.

The matter was made the subject of serious conference in the City Commission, at which it was unanimously decided that Commissioner Gannon was to have the backing of all resources and departments of the city in an endeavor to check the situation as best he could, and a municipal rent strike (so called) was determined by Commissioner Gannon to be the best and most effective method of affording immediate relief to the 5,000 victims of the rent profiteers with February notices to quit. A full page advertisement appeared in the local paper advising those affected to "sit tight" and not to pay the increased rent until it was approved by the Department of Revenue and Finance. The procedure was so novel, and rent profiteering was so general throughout the country, that within a week the public press of the United States and Canada took the question up and investigated and approved the Jersey City method.

In the absence of enabling legislation to reform the antiquated landlord and tenant laws which the citizens of New Jersey have thus far been deprived of, notwithstanding Commissioner Gannon's persistent efforts to have them enacted, the rent strikes in Jersey City proved to be the most successful method adopted anywhere in the country. The February strike was such a huge success that the city determined to open a well organized rent bureau, where citizens considering they had just complaint could come and make their grievance known.

Landlords Bring Suit.

Profiteering landlords brought suit against the City Commission and Justice Swayze decided that money expended for the maintenance of this bureau was illegally expended and that no further such expenditure of public money should be made. This, however, did not affect the determination of Commissioner Gannon and his colleagues to continue the good work being accomplished by the institution of this bureau, and for the past six months, since the rendering of that decision, the bureau has been conducted through the individual contributions of each Commissioner.

Over 13,000 people have been helped by this Rent Department of the City Commissioners, and a savng of about $1,000,000 a year in rent to these people has been effected. Almost one-half of the total population of the city has been beneficially affected by these activities of the Commission.

Commissioner Gannon, in order to encourage capital to invest in additional houses, secured the passage of a law providing that new houses built within the next two years should he exempt from all taxes for five years.

Mr. Gannon's method of meeting this problem has attracted attention all over the United States. Mayor Hylan of New York sent for the Commissioner and approved and adopted his general plan. The accompanying picture shows Commissioner Gannon in conference with Mayor Hylan upon this subject. Newspaper and other people interested in the problem have come from all parts of the United States to interview Mr. Gannon and to ascertain the actual results of the working out of his plan. The Commissioner has been invited to visit municipalities all over the United States to make addresses upon his method of meeting this housing problem, and has responded so far as he could, making addresses in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and other nearby places as time permitted.

Under a law, the passage of which they secured, the officials of New York have now provided for a similar exempting from taxation for a period of ten years.

As one of the by-products of the working out of this problem Mr. Gannon has raised the valuations of profiteering landlords upwards of $6,000,000, basing his valuations upon the extortionate rents, which is a method of arriving at value expressly authorized by statute. On the other hand there have been hundreds of landlords who have refused to take advantage of these temporary conditions, and who have maintained a scale of rents which the Commissioner and the tenants agreed was fair, and in all such cases the Commissioner has taken that fact into account and lowered the assessment of the property of such landlords.

The Jersey City Commission, backing up Mr. Gannon in the execution of these policies, has literally proved the leaders of thought and action in the handling of this very acute and difficult problem.

In the coming election our people should remember that every profiteering landlord whose extortion has been prevented by Commissioner Gannon's activities will be working tooth and nail against the re-election of the present City Commissioners, and if they are defeated the successful candidates will naturally assume that the result of the election means disapproval by the peo- ple of the policy and of Mr. Gannon in this housing situation.

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