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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla delivered his fifth State of the City address last night at the Mile Square Theater on Clinton Street.  The speech, delivered before an audience of residents, was streamed live on the city’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

The speech targeted several issues, including housing and environmental justice, Hoboken’s ongoing resiliency efforts, and renewed efforts to allow seniors to age in place. If you missed the speech, you can watch it in its entirety at either of these links:

Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/Hoboken
YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqdYL4CrSIw

Specific highlights of Mayor Bhalla’s speech included the following:

  • A major redevelopment of the Hoboken Housing Authority, rehabbing or replacing ALL housing units in partnership with HUD
  • Recent adoption of redevelopment agreements to construct, and make available, nearly 250 new affordable housing units
  • Re-launching the Home Improvement Program
  • The success of the new Social Worker Program
  • Expanding the Senior Services Program
  • Construction begins this year on Sinatra Drive and Willow Avenue redesign projects

Mayor Bhalla’s entire State of the City address may be read below:

 

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed guests, and residents of Hoboken. I am incredibly grateful to be before you, in person, to deliver my fifth State of the City address.

First, let me share my gratitude to Councilwoman Jabbour for her warm introduction. Emily has been a steadfast, consistent, and dynamic source of support for me and this whole City for years

now. I remain truly proud to call her my friend. To Council President Jen Giattino, and my colleagues on the City Council, Assemblyman John Allen, and other elected officials joining us here tonight, I appreciate your partnership as we all work to make Hoboken better. Please join me in offering a round of applause for the City Councilmembers, other elected officials, and Police Chief Steve Aguiar, who are here with us.

Thank you also to Kevin Free, Artistic Director right here at Mile Square Theatre. Thank you, Kevin, for hosting us here in your beautiful space, and for ensuring that Hoboken continues to have a vibrant and exciting home for the performing arts. If you haven’t yet, check out the current production, ‘Rabbit Summer,’ now playing here at Mile Square Theater. Thank you also to our girl scouts, Reny Rosado for the wonderful rendition of the national anthem, and to our honor guard.

The last time I gave an in-person State of the City address to the residents of Hoboken was right here at Mile Square Theatre in 2020, JUST before the pandemic. As I prepared for tonight, I looked back on that speech, and I couldn’t help feeling an overwhelming sense of pride about the progress we’ve made as a community. On everything from the acquisition of the Union Dry Dock site, the continued success of Vision Zero, winning the Monarch battle to preserve our uptown waterfront, and the grand opening of our cutting-edge ResilienCity Park, together we have made tremendous strides cementing Hoboken as the best city to live in New Jersey!

Make no mistake about it, these major quality of life projects will benefit both current residents and future generations of Hobokenites. But for a good number of our residents, these quality-of-

life upgrades – while important, only go so far. Because what is it worth having a revitalized waterfront, more open space, and safer streets, if our homes are not up to par, or even border on unlivable? We must remember that housing is a human right, and we can, and we must do even better for the residents of the entire City, and in particular, residents of the Hoboken Housing Authority.

For many years and throughout many administrations, this basic and fundamental right, that many of us take for granted, has at times eluded them as the buildings have fallen into disrepair,

have been damaged by flooding, have been neglected by previous Housing Authority administrations, and are now in the last stages of their useful life.

That neglect of the Housing Authority – ends now. My administration, in collaboration with the City Council, is proud to partner with the Hoboken Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a major, and unprecedented redevelopment plan that we adopted to finally offer the promise of a better future for our residents.

Over the next decade, this plan will chart the course for the substantial rehabilitation or replacement of all existing housing units within the HHA campus. In other words, our goal is not simply change – it is transformation! We intend to provide HHA residents with quality, renovated homes, and without causing unnecessary displacement. The plan will completely replace all 1,354 units of housing for 2,500 residents and provide them with brand new homes in modern buildings.

This project also prioritizes infrastructure upgrades, creates a new commercial corridor along Jackson Street, and includes a new resiliency park to mitigate flooding. This will be a game- changing initiative that will elevate Hoboken as a shining example of prioritizing dignified housing for those who need it and deserve it. I look forward to moving expeditiously on this ambitious project in the months and years to come.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to Housing Authority Executive Director Marc Recko, his staff

including Daniel Perez, both of whom are here with us today, as well as the Hoboken Housing Authority Board members, the Hoboken City Council, and to our Community Development team in City Hall, led by Director Chris Brown, for their unwavering commitment to this initiative, and most of all, the residents of the Housing Authority for their feedback and partnership. Please join me in a round of applause for their efforts.

It has taken a team effort to develop this plan for the Housing Authority, and I want to recognize one invaluable member of that team – the late Aaron Lewit. Aaron, who recently succumbed to ALS, was a dedicated board member of the Housing Authority who quietly served residents with little fanfare, but with a big heart. Aaron was dedicated to public service and giving back to his

beloved Hoboken, having previously served as a board member of the Hoboken Community Center, the Fund for a Better Waterfront, and the Hoboken Shelter, and much more. He will be missed, but never forgotten. We’re joined here tonight by Aaron’s wife Lynne and their son Nathaniel. Thank you so much for allowing me to recognize Aaron’s indelible contributions to our community.

Aaron understood that a diverse community is a strong community. Economic diversity means making sure that the people who drive our ambulances and teach our kids can continue to call

Hoboken home. I believe it is vital to ensure that we are utilizing every tool at our disposal to strengthen and maintain rent control wherever possible, so that Hoboken isn’t just a city for the top 1%. Recently, we learned that the Mile Square Tax Association, a special interest group led by wealthy lobbyists and deep pockets, is initiating a referendum to essentially gut rent control protections that impact countless Hoboken residents. Let me be clear – I will forcefully oppose this existential threat to Hoboken’s affordability protections with every ounce of energy in me, and I invite everyone in this room to take a clear and unequivocal stand on this crucial topic.

While we combat these threats to housing affordability, we are also continuing to find ways to empower residents with low-to-moderate incomes to improve and upgrade their own homes. The reality is that home repairs can be expensive. Repairing or replacing a roof, an HVAC system, plumbing, and electrical work can be cost-prohibitive, forcing homeowners and renters to make difficult financial decisions. That’s why, I’m glad to re-launch Hoboken’s “Home Improvement Program.” This program offers zero interest loans of up to $24,000 per residential unit, with forgiveness options for low-to-moderate income residents to address critical home repairs. We launched this program utilizing Hoboken’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund with no additional impact to the municipal budget, to help ensure the safety and well-being of our community members who need a helping hand.

AND our commitment to community support extends even further with things like:

• Discounted Citi bike programs for low-income residents,

  • Farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits,
  • Community Development Block Grant funding for local nonprofits servingdisadvantaged communities,
  • And free legal advice through our tenant advocate program.

These all demonstrate our dedication to creating a city where everyone, regardless of economic status, has access to essential services and opportunities.

These services also extend to our valued senior population, as we want to make Hoboken an even more welcoming place for our elderly residents. Through a collaboration of our senior

services staff, division of recreation, and cultural affairs, we are expanding and offering seniors more diverse programming than ever before. Yes, we will continue to offer ever popular bingo and art classes. But we have also added indoor pickleball, Zumba, and health workshops. This signifies our commitment to making Hoboken an attractive place to live not just for 20 somethings and those with young families, but also for those longtime residents who wish to age

in place.

With affordability and housing justice remaining a strong focus of my administration, it nonetheless remains a reality that in Hoboken, many seniors can still get priced out of our city due to a lack of inventory and a growing population. This is why I am incredibly proud to move forward with an initiative to create more affordable housing for seniors at 11th and Willow, replacing a surface parking lot with 36 income-restricted units for our senior neighbors. This will represent the first new, 100% affordable housing complex in Hoboken for seniors in over 30 years, demonstrating our commitment to those seniors who have given so much to our city. This plan will soon come before the Zoning Board, and we are excited to move forward on this

important project.

This all comes on the heels of our recent adoption of both a redevelopment plan and agreement that will completely transform and revitalize the Hoboken Terminal, further cementing our commitment to increasing Hoboken’s housing stock. The new residential building approved near the Terminal will have a 20% affordable housing set-aside. Combined with our other recent redevelopment agreements that have been approved, nearly 250 affordable units will soon be constructed and made available in Hoboken.

These groundbreaking projects, each on their own, bring important quality of life benefits to our residents, with a special focus on those who have called Hoboken home for generations: they built Hoboken, and now it’s our turn to build something for them. Taken together, they signify our strong commitment to ensuring that housing as a human right is not just a slogan, but a reality here in Hoboken.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that across the country the human right to housing is just out of reach for many, due to nation-wide housing shortages, rising costs, a mental health crisis, and other factors. That’s why last year, we hired two social workers, Lori Hetzel and Bianca Hoffer, who have done incredible work to assist those most vulnerable members of our community, and the Hoboken Library also hired a social worker – Emily Dalton – all working hand in hand with Nora DeBenedetto in our Office of Constituent Services.

Since opening their doors last February, our social workers have met with nearly 400 individuals who have needed assistance, 86 of them experiencing homelessness, and offering 300 housing

referrals, which have helped some of our most vulnerable neighbors find both temporary and permanent housing.

Lori, Bianca and Nora launched a program last summer, in partnership with non-profits Archangel Raphael’s Mission and Street Life Ministry to provide free showers, haircuts, and

clothing in the summer months to anyone who needed one. They have also initiated health screenings and mental health workshops for our seniors and helped reconnect immigrant family members.

In Hoboken, thanks in large part to our new social workers, these individuals are treated humanely, with the respect and the dignity they rightfully deserve.

While we strive to do what is right and just as it pertains to housing justice, we are also seeking to achieve environmental justice and address the negative impacts of climate change on Hoboken. As many know, in our Mile Square and cities across the country, changes to our climate often disproportionately affect communities of color.

For those of us here during Superstorm Sandy, we saw how areas in the Housing Authority filled up like a bathtub, with residents unable to leave their homes for days. And today, when we have torrential downpours, areas furthest west in Hoboken are often the first to flood.
Thankfully, over the past year and beyond, we’ve moved forward with several game-changing resiliency projects to both adapt to climate change and more severe storms, while also reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. These projects will reshape our city’s landscape, protecting not only against environmental challenges but also safeguarding the well-being of our low and moderate-income communities, the majority of which are in the flood plain.

Last year, we broke ground on the next phase of the Rebuild by Design project at Harborside Park, a project funded by federal, state, and local dollars – demonstrating the partnership between multiple levels of government. Harborside will become New Jersey’s first park to integrate above-ground flood protection measures to mitigate storm surge flooding while

providing the community with modern open space amenities.

We opened ResilienCity Park last year, Hoboken’s most historic resiliency project to date and the state’s largest resiliency park, that will soon be home to our third pump station. This year, we will be breaking ground on the Southwest Resiliency Park expansion, doubling the amount of park space available in Southwest Hoboken. And in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be putting shovels in the ground to build yet another resiliency park at 800 Monroe – projects overseen by Director Jennifer Gonzalez and Assistant Business Administrator Caleb Stratton. Together, once constructed, these parks will be able to detain over 3.4 million gallons of storm water during rain events and provide open space amenities on blue sky days.

Despite facing more severe storms caused by climate change, our investments in resilient open space, green infrastructure, and our existing flood pumps have prevented flooding over 88% of the time over the last two years, in instances our streets would have otherwise flooded without this flood infrastructure. I offer my appreciation to the North Hudson Sewerage Authority for

partnering with us to help us achieve these results. Simply put, there is no city in the entire State of New Jersey that is doing as much as Hoboken is, to both adapt to and combat climate change!

Our climate and open space efforts don’t end there. As we all know, my administration, with the support of the City Council and most importantly, members of the public, finally secured the decades-long dream of connecting our cherished waterfront at the former Union Dry Dock property.

Thanks to an open, public process, we have come up with an innovative concept design for this space that will completely revitalize this blighted final piece of our waterfront. The first aspect of this project will begin this year, in coordination with our Sinatra Drive redesign project, and will

be constructed in a phased approach over the next several years. This is one of the most transformative projects in the history of Hoboken’s waterfront, and I offer my thanks to the many residents who fought tirelessly over the previous six years to ensure this site did not become a permanent refueling station.

Creating more open space and preserving our waterfront are key aspects of our Climate Action Plan to create a more environmentally friendly city. So too, are the many sustainability initiatives we are undertaking to address the urgent call for climate justice.

We officially launched the Hoboken Community Solar Program built for low- and moderate- income residents who are so often left out of renewable energy programs, ensuring that they will directly benefit from the cost savings through resident driven climate related projects. The City is also making it easier for those who need to own a vehicle to own an electric vehicle, by installing on-street EV charging stations across the city. And our composting program continues to remain

a success story, with more participation in the program than ever before; It’s a great example of a win-win for the environment, and taxpayers who are ultimately saving money through this program

All of these projects are integral components of our commitment to creating a city that is not just environmentally conscious, but actively contributing to a sustainable future AND to our Climate Action goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

While our environmental initiatives play a role in keeping us safe from climate change, our Vision Zero plan is working to keep our most vulnerable residents safer on our streets.

Unfortunately, children and seniors are often disproportionally impacted by traffic fatalities and severe injuries. In 2015, one of our beloved seniors, Agnes Accera, was struck by a turning vehicle on Washington Street. This crash would have likely been avoided if our current signalization, curb extensions, and other improvements been in place.

Since that tragedy, we’ve committed ourselves to eliminating these preventable fatalities, like the one that took Agnes’s life, in partnership with our transportation department and the Hoboken

Police Department and Chief Aguiar, and other stakeholders. Because even one life taken is too many.

This year, as a part of Vision Zero, led by Director Ryan Sharp, we will begin construction on our Sinatra Drive redesign project, transforming our waterfront boulevard to include a protected bike lane connecting to 11th and Fourth Streets, raised pedestrian crossings, new green infrastructure, over 100 new trees, and more.

Another important Vision Zero project will take place along Willow Avenue, which many of you may have walked across to get here today. And as you probably saw, it can be a scary experience. The reality is that Willow Avenue – home to our cherished seniors at Fox Hill and children attending Wallace Elementary School – is a road segment on our high-crash network. That’s why we will soon begin a planning process to move forward with improvements along this gateway, a PUBLIC planning process we look forward to working with YOU on – in the near future.

And in the coming weeks, we will be tackling another Vision Zero initiative: working to improve safety surrounding e-bikes – with a focus on educating food delivery drivers. We need to maintain our streets and sidewalks as a safe place for all who use them. I appreciate the city council members who are taking this initiative seriously and look forward to an ordinance that is fair and equitable and requires delivery apps to do their fair share in educating and holding their workers accountable.

Hoboken’s Vision Zero program, like our housing projects and climate justice initiatives, reflect our commitment to a brighter future for our wonderful Mile Square.

Through these layered, thoughtful, and interconnected quality of life initiatives, we are building a community defined by inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience. Together, as residents, leaders, and stakeholders, we will continue to build a city that not only celebrates diversity but ensures justice for all and provides a foundation for every resident, regardless of their economic status or income, to pursue their best possible life here in Hoboken.

Before we end, I want to take this opportunity to recognize all the hard work of our City directors, members of public safety, and city staff, many of whom are here tonight and I haven’t yet mentioned. I ask that all the employees and public safety members rise so we can give them a well-deserved round of applause.

In closing, Hoboken’s success is not just about physical development. It is about how what we build together reflects a collective community spirit that embraces joy, diversity, justice, and the

empowerment of each and every one of our friends and neighbors, our families and loved ones, who call this special city home.

Thank you, and let us march forward, together, into an even brighter future for Hoboken. I thank the people gathered here today, those watching at home, and ALL the great people of Hoboken for your partnership and sense of possibility. Together we will continue to move Hoboken forward.

Good night, and please rise for the procession of the Hoboken Honor Guard.

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