“What goes around, comes around.”
“What once was old is now new.”
I am sure we have all heard theses phrases before, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I am referring to issues revolving around Affordable Housing in New Jersey.
Yesterday I attended an open hearing of the Assembly Committee Housing. The committee members were called together by chairman Benjie Wimberly (D. Passaic) to discuss the state of affordable housing and the complaints of several Towns about the burden that affordable housing will place on their towns. This is the result of COAH not passing third round rules back in 2015, so the Towns have had to go to the Courts to resolve these issues. Most have settled with Fair Share Housing and have had their affordable housing plans approved by the Courts, however with numbers that they still don’t like. And so, a call for a return of COAH to administer these plans and settle these issues.
That would be all well and good, if COAH had been allowed to work as it originally was set up. In the early days, the COAH board was a bi-partisan Board and would work with towns to discuss their affordable housing issues and ultimately arrive at a settlement. However, the towns still railed against having to do their housing obligations, so then governor Christi’ sought to marginalize COAH to the point that it was no longer able to function. Ultimately, The Supreme Court ruled that until COAH is reconstituted, Towns would have to have their housing plans certified by the courts. So that is where we are today.
Settling through the Courts was always an option, however today it is the place of last resort, so that Towns now must finally settle, establish their plans and then help to get the construction done. This is what they don’t like. At yesterday’s hearing, I heard a lot of statements from the members of the committee, as well as from the mayors of many towns, of how they support affordable housing however they are worried that they don’t have sufficient infrastructure within their towns, to manage this new growth. They fear overbuilding of the town, overcrowding in their schools, and higher taxes. All this really without having any new construction being built yet.
So, this clearly is still a very big issue for towns in New Jersey. We are yet to hear about the new Governor’s position on Affordable Housing. Will the Governor re-institute COAH or a like body that will take up these issues and remove them from the courts. Or will he allow the process to run its course, through the judicial system, ultimately having judges making the decisions as a Town’s affordable housing plans.
My experience has been that even when COAH was an active body, some towns would still delay, and throw up barriers as to why they couldn’t comply with the law. However, with the issues in the hands of the courts, Towns have been forced to settle and move on. My recommendation would be to stay the course, allow the Courts to do their job, and settle these issues. No longer are towns allowed to get away with delay after delay, hoping for some governor or new legislature to change the law. Given some time, we will begin to see new housing develop that will ease the burden of those who need it. Finding decent and affordable housing should be something that we should all support.