Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts wants to end the practice of allowing suburban communities to avoid or reduce their court- required obligation to build affordable housing by sending money to nearby urban communities. He calls the regional contribution agreements “blood money” and says they have worsened urban blight by concentrating the poor in the cities. In his view, one we share, suburban towns need to build more affordable housing within their borders.
Roberts’ idea has merit, but it’s a nonstarter without cash. Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, argues that eliminating regional contribution agreements makes sense only if there are alternate sources of revenue to fund affordable housing.
Palmer also says a comprehensive plan is needed. No New Jersey governor has implemented a comprehensive affordable housing plan since the 1975 Mount Laurel decision in which the state Supreme Court said all municipalities must provide their fair share of low- and moderate-income housing.
Gov. Jon Corzine has said he wants to see 100,000 additional units of affordable housing in the next 10 years. That, too, is a reasonable goal but unachievable without a plan that creates a dedicated funding source. Roberts proposes using a portion of the realty transfer tax. That would necessitate either an increase in the tax or using funds targeted for other purposes.
These are tough political choices. Roberts’ goal is to get a bill passed in early 2008. That becomes more likely if the state puts together a comprehensive plan like the one proposed by Palmer and other urban mayors.
Such a plan must balance urban and suburban concerns. It should also revisit Coalition on Affordable Housing rules that have frustrated efforts to bring more housing to the market, and it must establish a guaranteed funding source to match the program’s ambitions.