Urban mayors offer housing plan

Propose using some fees to fund new low-cost units in cities, suburbs

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BY TOM HESTER, Star-Ledger Staff

Urban mayors say the state must deliver more dollars for hous ing before they can support Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts’ plan to scrap a program that allows suburban towns to pays cities and older suburbs to take on their affordable housing obligations.

One suggestion the mayors will make today in Trenton: dedicate a portion of the state real estate transfer fee to finance affordable housing in the cities and suburbs. They also want a new commission to determine the state’s actual need for more low- and moderate- income housing.

The proposals are offered as amendments to a bill sponsored by Roberts (D-Camden), who wants to end a long-standing state program that allows wealthier towns to pay others to take their court-ordered responsibility to build affordable housing. Roberts calls the practice “blood money.”

But urban and suburban officials oppose the bill, saying the regional contributions agreements — RCAs — benefit both sides.

“We still oppose the Roberts’ bill until there is a funding mechanism for urban towns to create workforce housing.” said Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer. “There also has to be incentives for suburban towns to create affordable hous ing.”

The mayors’ proposed amendments call for two funds financed by a percentage of the real estate transfer fees. One would provide aid to urban areas to replace the suburban money they receive. The other would send aid to the suburbs and rural areas as an incentive to add affordable housing.

Expected to join Palmer at the Statehouse today are Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, president of the Urban Mayors Association; New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, and Orange Mayor Mims Hackett.

Roberts said he welcomes discussion on his bill (A-3857). He said he plans public hearings and meet ings on his proposal during the remainder of the year and foresees legislative action after a new Legislature convenes in January.

“I have said from the outset that I want us to take our time and review the potential of eliminating regional contribution agreements,” Roberts said. “Housing policy has to be a thoughtful process while keeping an eye on the development of a new (affordable housing) plan.”

In its landmark Mount Laurel decisions of 1975 and 1985, the state Supreme Court declared all New Jersey towns must ensure their low- and moderate-income resident have affordable housing. More than 130 towns have not acted at all on affordable housing and many others are moving slowly or have had to be prodded through court action. The state Council on Affordable Housing is under court- order to develop a new housing plan that may actually bring about more housing.

The state devised the RCA program to spur new housing. Since the program began, at least $210 million has been paid out by suburban towns to transfer their housing obligations. Fifty-three cities and older suburbs have accepted the payments, including Trenton, New Brunswick, Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth.

Gov. Jon Corzine has pledged to provide 100,000 affordable houses and apartments over the next decade but has yet to unveil a plan.

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