In a perfect world, everything an owner, manager, or homeowner's association needs would be one phone call or mouse-click away. Information about new developments in the state Legislature, lists of vendors, and policy updates would be delivered to your door. Anyone involved with the multifamily housing or development industry would have a representative at city council meetings and at national levels, voicing their concerns and suggestions.
One such resource in New Jersey happens to be The New Jersey Apartment Association (NJAA). The NJAA is a statewide organization of apartment owners, managers, builders and those involved in allied industries, whose mission is dedicated to maintaining and improving existing properties and promoting and producing new and affordable apartments in the Garden State.
Goals and objectives of the NJAA are designed to advance and protect the welfare of the apartment industry in New Jersey. According to the NJAA mission statement, "The NJAA represents the apartment industry before the New Jersey legislature and governmental agencies and provides continuing education and information to its members and the public. The NJAA membership's interests are served on a national level through its affiliation with the National Apartment Association (NAA)."
The small group that formed what is now known as the NJAA first got together back in the early 1970s as the Apartment House Council of New Jersey and later (in 1982) as The New Jersey Council of the Multi-Housing Industry.
A lot has changed since then. "We have about 142,000 units represented, and 1,500 individuals, about 270 owner members and the same number of associate members," says Jeanne Gorman, executive director of the NJAA since September of last year.
There are two kinds of NJAA memberships available: the owner membership or the associate membership. Owner memberships are strictly for the owners of apartment buildings. The fee for membership depends on the size of your holdings: for 2005, there is an initial annual fee of $500 due, plus an additional charge per unit. The first 1,500 units will cost a member $3 apiece, the next 1,500 are charged $2, and every unit after 3,000 is $1. Associate memberships are for those individuals or businesses that provide goods or services in the apartment industry. "We have all kinds of associate members, from attorneys to window installation workers," says Gorman.
The process of becoming a member is simple. "Within 6 months, you'll be able to sign up for membership online and existing members will be able to pay their annual fees online, as well. For now, if you want to become a member, call or e-mail us and we'll send you the form in the mail. Once you're a member, we publish your name in our magazine so everyone knows you're out there."
The newsletter works in tandem with NJAA's website, which provides apartment hunters with NJAA apartment listings in alphabetical order within most towns in New Jersey. The website also has a "classifieds" link, where members (and non-members) can locate services rendered by NJAA associate members ranging from CPAs to exterminators, from carpet sales to water treatment companies.
The website is also updated frequently with notices about timely events in the apartment industry. The NJAA itself holds informational seminars on topics that are of interest to their members. "Fair Housing," a talk that took place on October 25th at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, was one such example, says Gorman. The seminar addressed such issues as the written qualifying criteria protocol for tenants and whether or not a person living with AIDS has protection under the Fair Housing Act, as well as whether or not building owners/managers have a right to know of their health status. (Editor's Note: It is illegal to discriminate against HIV/AIDS infected people under the Fair Housing Act, 1988.)
The website provides information about the topics that will be covered in such lectures and how to sign up to attend the event. In addition to event notices, the NJAA's website posts industry news, such as a recent memorandum from the New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey regarding the Fair Housing Act. A copy of the letter was posted on the NJAA website in downloadable, printable form.
Membership fees also provide services on a legislative level and this is one of the NJAA's biggest advantages. "We give apartment owners and managers a voice," says Debbie Gluck, NJAA's director of communications. Through PAC's and diligent correspondence as well as attendance at political rallies and conferences, the NJAA makes sure the concerns of their members are addressed. Before any apartment industry bill passes, you can be sure that it's been thoroughly examined by numerous members of the NJAA.
The NJAA's annual activities aren't limited just to business, however. Two events the group puts on annually are the Garden State Awards Ceremony and the New Jersey Apartment Association Charitable Fund's Children's Holiday Party.
"The Garden State awards are really a lot of fun," says Gorman. "The NJAA nominates about 300 properties and people for awards like 'Best Renovation' or 'Best Superintendent.' It's a black-tie event and we had about 500 people attend in May of 2003. It's quite an honor to be given an award; these are your colleagues and peers, and to be voted 'the best' is a big deal." The night ends with the grand finale prize: Best Property Management Company. The NJAA gives out two Best Property Management awards; one for companies with units exceeding 1,500 and one award for those companies with fewer than 1,500 units. "That's only fair," says Gorman.
Members can volunteer in other ways, too, if donating a gift doesn't feel like enough. A business can make a tax-deductible contribution or an individual can volunteer to help on the day of the event. In the summertime, the NJAA also organizes a free day at a RiverSharks baseball game, complete with free hot dogs and soda, a 'moon-bounce' and other fun activities for kids and families.
The New Jersey Cooperator spoke with Debbie Gluck, director of communications for the NJAA about some of the group's activities, upcoming events, and underlying mission.
When the mission statement says the NJAA helps "produce new and affordable apartments throughout New Jersey," what does that mean, exactly? Are you underwriting? Funding?
"Basically, we're a trade organization. Our members are the 'producers,' i.e., managers, bankers, financiers, et cetera. We collectively provide housing to New Jersey through our association."
How many members does the NJAA have currently?
"We have 270 owner members. We have about the same number of associate members. Overall, we've got around 1,500 individual members."
About how many apartments in the state are affiliated with the NJAA in some form?
"The number of resident units is at about 142,000, meaning there are 142,000 units [in the state] either owned or managed by the NJAA. Since about one-third of New Jersey residents live in apartments, that's a significant portion of the 8 million or so people living in the state."
Would you say the NJAA has a strong community presence?
"Yes. We hold several events during the year that show that. We have a separate charitable fund and that allows our members to help kids in certain struggling communities. Our baseball game in the summer, and our holiday party are examples. We also have a charitable golf outing that raises money for scholarships. Three scholarships are given each year to employees or family members of NJAA members."
How does the NJAA work with the legislature? In what capacity?
"We're always looking to be advocates for apartment owners and residents when it comes to state law. We represent our members; create a voice for them in that arena. The pet bill is a great example. [Gluck is referring to a recently defeated bill in New Jersey that would have given apartment owners full license to keep any kind of pet in their apartment without express permission or zoning enforcement.] If that bill would've passed, our owners would've taken on a lot of cost—pets of any size cause damage to buildings and some owners don't want to incur those costs. From a resident's perspective, not everyone wants to live next door to a pit bull. We helped give these concerns a voice."
What are the NJAA's top priorities right now?
"One of our top priorities is to create awareness of apartment owners as small business owners. When an apartment building comes to a neighborhood, hundreds of people come to an area. They contribute revenue to that area, i.e., dry cleaners, gas stations, restaurants, etc. We want to raise awareness of our contribution to the economy of the state."
How does the NJAA help improve the lives of building owners or apartment owners?
"If our members (and non-members) have a question about anything having to do with the industry, they can call us first. If we don't know, we'll find out. We have liaisons in the Department of Labor, in Community Affairs, etc. With weekly updates online and through our newsletter, we keep people up to date on the goings-on in the legislature and any education programming being run. We are their resource and communication hotline."
Mary Fons is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.