Torricelli on Affordable Housing

This piece appeared in Politics NJ. Is this common sense?

By Robert Torricelli – May 29, 2007 – 2:38pm

I’m as supportive of progressive causes as any good Democrat. I feel as though I’ve led some lonely fights but sometimes you’ve got to recognize when things are just crazy.

The fight for affordable housing is a just cause. People should have the ability to live in communities where they work. Zoning powers shouldn’t be used to exclude citizens because of economic status. The question is how far this is going to go.

Two things have recently happened that prove that even a good a cause like affordable housing can be taken too far. First, some otherwise sensible Democratic leaders want to end the practice whereby communities can sell their housing obligations to other communities. This has traditionally led many rural areas to send funds to developed areas to subsidize housing and it has been very successful. If the practice is ended by the legislature, the affordable housing quotient of every community will have to be constructed within municipal borders.

My town of Delaware Township in Hunterdon County is a good example of the absurdity of this policy. Delaware Township has no mass transit. An area resident will need a car to buy a loaf of bread. There are no significant employers in the entire community. The only restaurant has entrées that start around $30 and a maitre d’ who frowns upon domestic wines. It’s quite a place for affordable housing.

The idea is to make people’s lives easier. What’s the point of housing being affordable if everything else is out of reach? With gasoline at $3.50 shouldn’t proximity to jobs and services be a factor? And how about coordinating with other state priorities. The affordable units being built in Delaware Township are in an old corn field. I thought preserving open space was a priority too.

The second decision is even odder. The State Courts have now ruled that the Meadowlands District needs to allocate affordable housing units. Did the judges really think this one through? Under their ruling one might contend every governmental district could share this obligation. The Highlands would be a combination preservation and affordable housing district. Even industrial parks and trade zones would need to set aside land. Is this really how we want to plan communities?

Building affordable housing must include building communities where people can build their lives. It must include more than a house. People deserve the right to be able to afford to live, work and shop in a community. There’s also a need to be sensitive to other state priorities like open space and development along existing power, sewer and mass transit lines.

Just a little common sense would help.