Councilman Luis Velez has been renting a house on Southard Street for the past six months from prominent developer Charles Florio fueling speculation and criticism from some of his detractors.
Some of Velez’s opponents have been claiming he is receiving free housing from the developer. Others have been spreading the false rumor that the councilman bought the house from Florio for one dollar.
“It’s all gossip,” said Velez, who represents the 5th Ward. “I wish I knew who was spreading the rumor I paid a dollar for the house.”
The property is owned by Silk City Development I LLC, according to city tax records. Florio’s office on East 18th Street is listed as the address on tax records.
When asked how much he pays rent at the property, Velez would not provide a dollar figure.
“That’s personal. You can ask Florio,” replied Velez. “I pay market rent.”
“He pays market rate. He pays all his utilities. It’s a very small one-family house,” said Florio.
Florio said Velez, who moved in on Oct. 1, 2017, pays $900 rent for the house. He said his company manages the property and does not own it. His company has 3,000 units of housing in the city, he said. He provides housing to 12,000 people in the city, he said.
Velez’s apartment, like most of Florio’s properties, is in a rough part of the city.
“He received nothing. He has voted on nothing for me,” said Florio. “If the guy was getting a free apartment like I offered to police – none of them have taken up my offer – then there’s a story.”
Florio said Velez pays by check. He offered to show the canceled checks to a reporter.
“I don’t pay that political game with him,” said Florio. He has been a crusader against local government corruption that took down former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
Florio received unfair treatment from the city’s building department under the Torres administration which prompted him to investigate the mayor. His private investigator found the mayor was corrupt and was stealing from taxpayers.
Torres received a five-year prison sentence for corruption. Three public works supervisors also went down with him.
“My hands are clean. There’s nothing to hide,” said Velez. He will recuse himself from voting on anything to do with Florio, he said. He has found himself under attack from some quarters.
A political flyer was circulating this week on social media that claims Velez is “caught taking money from local slumlord” and that he is getting “free rents for his 1 family house in return he gives support and votes on city council.”
The attack flyer, originally put out by a page called “Paterson Progressive Movement,” was boosted by school board member Joel Ramirez. He shared the flyer which one user described as “slanderous.”
Ramirez, who was elected to the school board last November, did not immediately respond to a call for comment on Thursday morning.
“It’s a fake page,” said Ramon Joaquin, youth director for the Paterson Progressive Movement, a group that was formed in 2014. His group backed Velez in 2016. He said the fake page uses the movement’s logo to deceive people.
“That commissioner is not a friend of the Paterson Progressive Movement,” said Joaquin speaking of Ramirez’s sharing of the attack flyer.
Joaquin said the deceptive page was reported Facebook for deactivation.
This report was updated at 11:03 a.m.