State to appeal parts of ruling on affordable housing

Council wants to keep 2 existing provisions

Friday, February 16, 2007
BY TOM HESTER.Star-Ledger Staff

The Corzine administration yesterday appealed two portions of a recent court decision that tossed out the state’s formula for determining how much affordable housing must be provided by suburban and rural towns.

Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin said the state will comply with the January appeals court mandate to revise its affordable housing rules. But she said parts of the ruling would have the “unintended consequence” of delaying new housing for lower-income families. (To read the full statement click here .)

The state Council on Affordable Housing asked the appeals court to stay part of its ruling that struck down a standard called “growth share.” That would invalidate plans already adopted in 120 municipalities requiring developers to provide a certain proportion of affordable units when they build market-rate housing.

COAH also asked the state Supreme Court to overrule the appeals court’s finding that towns need to give developers financial incentives to build affordable housing. Fearing that could lead to higher property taxes, COAH wants the state’s highest court to reaffirm the position it has taken in past affordable housing decisions that incentives are not necessary.

NONPROFIT WEIGHS IN

In a related move, the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit Cherry Hill-based housing advocacy organization, asked the Supreme Court to endorse incentives for developers as a way to encourage affordable housing construction.

The Fair Share Housing Center was one of the groups that sued the state over its affordable housing rules. In its Jan. 25 decision, the appeals court found COAH had watered down the housing obligates it set in 2004 for 382 towns, through bogus calculations, arbitrary rules and unconstitutional changes in the state’s fair-housing law.

Overall, COAH had determined the 382 towns needed to add 77,594 units of affordable housing over 10 years, but the appeals court said the state agency had eliminated some 100,000 potential units from its calculations without adequate reasoning.

The court did allow 262 towns that have submitted plans to provide housing under the 2004 rules to continue preparations. But the court said more than 100 other towns must wait for new rules.

NEW RULES COMING

The court gave COAH six months to develop new rules for estimating how many houses and apartments are needed for the state’s low- and moderate-income residents and for deciding each town’s obligation to provide them.

Levin said yesterday the state will comply, and that to ensure the new rules are based on the best possible data and analysis, COAH today will begin reaching out for experts on housing, economics, demographics and planning.

“COAH’s No. 1 priority is to ensure that affordable housing is protected and continues to be produced with as little disruption as possible,” Levin said. “COAH has met with over 60 housing advocates, planners, court masters, builders and municipal representatives in the last two weeks and has already begun to review their ideas and revise its rules to comply with the court ruling.”

The rules’ revision will require public hearings.

Gov. Jon Corzine’s office said he had no comment on the COAH appeals, which came a day after a lengthy meeting between the governor and Levin.

MIXED REACTION TO APPEAL

COAH’s actions yesterday received a mixed reaction from housing advocates and local government lobbyists.

Kevin Walsh, the Fair Share Housing Center’s assistant director, said in appealing incentives for developers, COAH is opposing something that makes building affordable housing easier. But he welcomed the decision not to appeal the entire ruling.

“It’s good they’ve recognized parts not to appeal that we and others have said were unconstitutional and did not provide affordable housing and discriminated against families with children,” he said. “I wish it had not taken a court to convince them of that.”

The Fair Share Housing Center contends Levin and COAH have intentionally slowed the creation of affordable housing in the past four years. The group wants Corzine to appoint a special administrator to oversee the creation of the new rules, something the governor does not intend to do.

Staci Berger, acting associate director of the non-profit Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said, “We support the idea of moving as quickly as possible through the rule-making process to make COAH’s regulations effective and productive as quickly as possible.” But her group agrees with the state’s effort to keep the “growth share” standard, “which we think is very important.”

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities supports the two court appeals. “The administration’s decision is a welcome show of support to over 120 municipalities who have adopted growth share ordinances and the 262 municipalities who have voluntarily submitted affordable housing plans to COAH,” said William G. Dressel, the league’s director.

Tom Hester may be reached at (609) 292-0557.

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