NY Times Editorial on COAH

This is the New York Times Editorial on the COAH issue. We share it in the spirit of encouraging a frank and open discussion. To read COAH’s position on the court challenge click here. To share your opinion click here .

February 18, 2007

New Jersey

The Do-Nothing Housing Council

For years, the agency set up to encourage more affordable housing in New Jersey, the Council on Affordable Housing, has done almost nothing. And even when it has come up with a program, its rules seemed devised to allow municipalities to evade, not meet, their legal obligations to promote affordable housing. To express your opinion click here.

A three-judge state appeals court panel decided last month it was fed up. In a unanimous, 127-page decision, the court said the rules drawn up by the council “frustrate, rather than further” the opportunity to build affordable housing. The court also said that the council had grossly underestimated the state’s needs for low- and moderate-income dwellings. The judges gave the council six months to devise a new plan with more realistic estimates of the state’s affordable housing needs.

For their part, the council and the League of Municipalities call the decision a setback for a genuine effort to provide housing for people with low and moderate incomes. But that’s simply untrue. The council has approved plans for only four of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, and its rules would not have come close to providing enough affordable housing units. Some background is in order.

In the mid-1970’s, a series of rulings by the state Supreme Court required communities to provide significant amounts of low and middle income housing. These were known as the Mount Laurel rulings after the town near Philadelphia where the complaints originated in 1971. In 1999, after various delays, the affordable housing council was instructed to devise guidelines. The council took until 2004 to write the rules and since then has approved plans for only the four towns.

The council’s tortoise-like pace is only one of its shortcomings. It has apparently failed to consider broader regional needs as the Mount Laurel decisions required, and has thus underestimated by as many as 100,000 units the state’s overall need for affordable housing. The council has also allowed towns to restrict half of their affordable housing units to senior citizens in order to avoid increases in school populations. The court said no more than one-quarter of the units can be reserved for seniors.

What’s worrisome is that the very same council that has done such an abysmal job so far will now be asked to write a new plan. Based on the record, it is hard to have much confidence in the council and its leadership, including its chairman, state Community Affairs Commissioner Susan Bass Levin.

One remedy may lie with Gov. Jon Corzine, who to his credit has promised to create an additional 100,000 affordable housing units. He could ask the state’s Department of Public Advocate to draft an effective plan and present it to the housing council. Historically, the public advocate, which was abolished by the Whitman administration but revived by Mr. Corzine, has been an enthusiastic advocate of more affordable housing for New Jersey. That same degree of commitment is now essential if New Jersey is to get the affordable housing it needs.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company