As winter temperatures dip, the stories of life in Parkview Apartments get harder and harder to stomach. In addition to the too familiar refrains of lack of communication with management, concerns about safety, and spigots that seem to sometimes unleash brown sludge instead of potable water, residents in the high rise complex are struggling to keep warm. Pop onto a local Facebook site and you’re likely to read about a resident sharing that they and their kids are freezing. Enough is enough. These are our neighbors. Action needs to be taken.
That Morgan Properties is not prioritizing reliable heat for residents during the winter is perhaps not surprising given that they were still threatening evictions this past spring, during the height of Covid. Importantly, Morgan Properties was still doing this after Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 106 suspending evictions throughout the state. This means their actions were both unethical (threatening eviction during a terrifying time for all) and also illegal.
So what should our local government do to redress this? For starters, there should be rigorous code enforcement. Inspections for compliance should not apply only to our local small landlords. Large corporations like Morgan Properties should not be given a free pass. It would seem that are at present, unless they are being fined for being in violation of code that mandates that all rental units must be safe, sanitary and fit for human habitation. That would require that they turn and keep the heat on!
Furthermore, our local government should cease awarding tax breaks to corporate bad actors like Morgan Properties. Because that’s exactly what’s happening now. In the Collingswood’s Current Fund 2020 Municipal Budget, Parkview is again given a tax abatement. Under PILOT (“payment in lieu of taxes”) agreements, entities come to an arrangement with the municipal government for a dollar amount they will pay instead of their full tax levy. A tax break for a corporation putting our neighbors in harm’s way hardly seems like good governance. And these tax abatements simply shift the tax burden onto the rest of us so we are left picking up the slack. What does that amount to? According to data reported to the Department of Community Affairs in 2017, Parkview’s full tax share the previous year would have been $1,948,924.22 without an abatement. Instead they paid $743,244.00 ($1,205,680,22 less the amount they would have paid if billed in full).
In a June 27, 2018 Inquirer article, Mayor Jim Maley credits Collingswood’s success to his work to “get rental units out of our residential neighborhoods” but I don’t think warehousing renters in a seemingly mismanaged high rise at the periphery of town is a Collingswood success story. These are our community members. The kids in Parkview waiting for the heat to turn on are students in our schools. All Collingswood residents deserve a safe, sanitary living space regardless of the size of their home or whether they rent or own. It is a matter of safety and public health. It is a matter of equity, and of fairly serving all members of the Collingswood community.
This letter to the editor originally was published in The Retrospect on 12/18/20