40% of SciTech Scity housing should go to non-tenured JCBOE teachers

It’s not clear what Scholars Village actually entails, but a Teachers Village within SciTech Scity would help Jersey City Public Schools recruit and retain teachers.

SciTech Scity

Rendering of proposed SciTech Scity development.

Liberty Science Center’s (LSC) SciTech Scity is one of the premier developments in New Jersey. The project includes a STEM high school, business incubation hub with research labs, and residential housing.

“SciTech Scity is a curated community (“mini-city”) of tech entrepreneurs, scientists, students, and other forward thinking people and organizations working together to create a better future for all,” according to a statement on their website.

The potential of LSC’s proposal is astronomical, but the project has so far failed to provide any meaningful benefit to its biggest investor – the people of Jersey City.

Despite significant political resistance, the city “gifted” the land for SciTech to LSC for $10 in 2017. Realistically, the city had limited options with what it could do with the property.

For example, the city could’ve done nothing with the property and just let it remain fallow. They could’ve attempted to auction the land to market-rate housing developers, but I suspect the political opposition to such a plan would’ve been insurmountable.

In addition to free land, the city has committed $2 million annually to the STEM academy; however, Hudson County will operate the school and Jersey City kids aren’t even guaranteed 60% of its seats.

Scholars Village, the residential component of SciTech, is essentially the final opportunity for the project to specifically benefit Jersey City.

Per SciTech’s website, Scholars Village will be developed “for innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, STEM graduate students, and individuals and families who desire to be a part of the SciTech Scity community.”

That sounds like a cute pretext for housing discrimination or a classy way to say the project will be 100% market-rate housing. Unfortunately, there’s a journalism crisis in Jersey City, so you can expect statements like that to be reported by the Jersey Journal without question.

Back in 2017, Jersey Digs reported that the project would include a 266-unit residential community that would house graduate level students. From the article:

Per [Mayor Steven Fulop], selling the property for maximum dollars as some have suggested would mean high-rises and thousands of apartments would go up at the property. “Our administration doesn’t believe these plans are in the best interest of all residents with regards to the potential we have in creating a citywide asset like SciTech city,” he said.

Last week, Jersey Digs reported that the project will now include 500 units – which break down as 110 studios, 223 one-bedrooms, 131 two-bedrooms, and 36 three-bedroom spaces – with no affordable housing component.

The increase of 234 units from the original proposal is good, but I think before the Jersey City planning board approves the Scholars Village application, LSC should enter into a lease agreement with the Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE).

To address both the affordability crisis and teacher shortage, Scholars Village should set aside 40% of units (200 apartments) for non-tenured teachers in Jersey City. STEM teachers would be given preference and rents would be fixed at 35% of tenant’s JCBOE salary.

I’m not sure the JCBOE could be given a better tool for recruiting new teachers to fill the district’s most crucial vacancies without imposing any burden on taxpayers.

Do I think that will happen? Probably not, but let me propose these two hypothetical scenarios:

Hypothetical 1: The city gifts the land to LSC for $10 – with the possibility of some return on investment in the unknown future – and commits $2 million annually to the project. The site plan includes a new STEM high school for Hudson County Schools of Technology, a business incubation & research hub, and 500 units of market rate housing with no affordable component.

Hypothetical 2: The city sells the land to a private developer for $10,000,000. The site plan includes a new STEM high school for the JCBOE, a business incubation & research hub that partners with LSC, and 1,200 apartments with 20% (240 units) set aside for a Teachers Village.

Which sounds like a better deal for the people of Jersey City?

Anyhow, hopefully LSC’s leadership can find a way to give back something substantial to its host community and biggest investor – because what’s going on right now doesn’t feel right.

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