Court throws out COAH affordable housing plan

We first heard about this breaking news from our friend Bob Parker of NewBridge. This story in the Star Ledger provides even more details about the case and its ramifications.

Court throws out affordable housing plan

In a stunning ruling today, a state appeals court invalidated the state government’s plan to make nearly 300 New Jersey suburban and rural towns provide nearly 77,000 affordable houses and apartments for low-income residents over 10 years and gave the Corzine administration six months to develop a new plan.

Responding to an appeal brought by the Fair Share Housing Center and three other organizations, the court found the state Council on Affordable Housing in 2004 had watered down the towns’ housing obligations through bogus calculations, arbitrary rules and unconstitutional changes. Overall, the court found COAH eliminated 100,000 affordable housing units without adequate reasoning.

Peter J. O’Connor, the Fair Share Housing Center director and an attorney who brought the first so-called Mount Laurel affordable housing lawsuit in 1971, helped argue the case that led to today’s ruling. He said the ruling is an indictment of state Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin’s outlook toward affordable housing and that Gov. Jon Corzine should consider removing her from office and cleaning up the COAH board.

“The court sent a clear message to Susan Bass Levin and COAH: It’s time to stop evading New Jersey responsibility to provide affordable housing, and time to start getting shovels in the ground for the housing that low and moderate income families throughout the state need,” O’Connor said.

Under the ruling, the court stayed all action in the so-called affordable housing Third Round. Towns that have not moved on meeting the housing units ordered by COAH must await a new plan. All court actions related to builders or towns providing affordable housing must also wait.

“The rules frustrate rather than further, a realistic opportunity for the production of affordable housing,” the three judge appeals court panel declared.

Affordable housing advocates do not blame Corzine for the housing rules. The rules were established under former Gov. James E. McGreevey by Levin – who also served as DCA commissioner then – and COAH in 2004 after a five-year delay.

Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said the governor would not replace Levin.

Affordable housing advocates argue that New Jersey needs 650,000 affordable houses and apartments but said they are willing to work with Corzine to provide the 100,000 units he has pledged to provide over the next decade.

Contributed by Tom Hester