Jersey City pitches latest housing plans to cramped New Yorkers

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For Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, the pandemic is a good time to lure New Yorkers feeling anxious and cramped.

Fulop, 43, has reached a deal with developers for the first phase of Bayfront, an 8,000-unit project at the site of a former chemical plant on the Hackensack River.

"There is a premium associated with Manhattan, and places like Jersey City become more marketable," Fulop said in an interview.

Bayfront is the biggest project in Jersey City since the Newport community helped transform the Hudson River waterfront into a complex of high-rise offices and residences beginning in the 1980s.

New Jersey officials have used cheaper real estate prices and tax benefits to lure New York residents and companies across the Hudson River for decades. Jersey City is a quick train ride into Manhattan, and in recent years its population has increased as prominent Wall Street firms opened offices on the waterfront and new residential projects offered amenities and space that would cost more in New York City.

Now, with the pandemic creating anxiety about dense office buildings and public transportation, New Yorkers who have been working from home are considering leaving for the suburbs to spread out. Still, they might look farther than Jersey City if commutes into Manhattan are less frequent and they want more space.

"It doesn't have a ton of open space — you're talking about apartments," said Barry Hersh, a real estate professor at New York University. "It's just not different enough."

For Fulop, who has pushed to develop areas of Jersey City beyond the "Wall Street West" area on the Hudson, the project is an opportunity to drive growth on the other side of the city.

Jersey City bought the roughly 100-acre site from Honeywell International Inc. in 2016 for $100 million. The developers — a partnership between Pennrose and Omni New York and BRP Development Group — will pay $26 million to build more than 1,000 units for the first phase of the development. Of the 8,000 planned new homes, 35% will be affordable, according to Fulop.

Jersey City has been hit hard by the coronavirus. There are more positive cases in the Hudson County city of 271,000 than in the state of Oregon or New Hampshire. The city has frozen hiring and raises after offering buyouts to municipal workers and is seeking to refinance about $60 million in debt.

Jersey City may still hold appeal for New Yorkers who want more space but aren't ready to flee too far from Manhattan. The hundreds of affordable homes will also help local residents who are suffering financially, Fulop said.

"We are demonstrating our continued commitment to our more vulnerable residents who are among the hardest hit by this pandemic," he said.

Bloomberg News