Nothing affordable about this housing reform

(Written yesterday). Promoted by Rosi Efthim

Crossposted from Channel Surfing:

New Jersey’s low-income residents looking for housing can stop looking for affordable housing. It is not going to be built anytime soon.

The state Senate today passed S1, legislation sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-union, an awful piece of legislation that panders to the longstanding antipathy suburban communities have had toward the state’s affordable housing requirements since their inception in the 1980s.

The bill, which passed today by a 28-3 vote, claims to meet the requirements of two state Supreme Court rulings — Mount Laurel I and II — and the state laws adopted in their wake, while essentially gutting the state’s affordable housing program.

The bill prohibits towns from imposing development fees on non-residential development, effectively severing the connection between jobs created and housing need and making it impossible for towns to even acknowledge that they should make housing available for the people who work in the warehouses they all seem to want. (Warehouses are considered clean ratables that cost little, but generate lots of local taxes.)

The bill also does away with the Council on Affordable Housing, transferring authority to the Department of Community Affairs, which would be directed to help towns create housing opportunities. DCA, however, will not have the ability to impose numbers on towns; instead, the bill offers a series of set-aside targets, but leaves it to towns to manage — which makes local mayors happy and leaves it unlikely that suburban communities will actually build housing for low-income people.

The governor, of course, is happy with the vote.

“The legislation passed by the Senate today eliminates COAH and goes a long way toward fundamentally reforming the affordable housing system which New Jerseyans have long demanded and that I have promised to deliver,” the governor said in a statement.

But this is not reform; it is abolition. Rather than replace COAH with a new system designed to get housing built in an expeditious manner while ensuring that towns do not use zoning as a way to further exacerbate the racial, ethnic and class segregation that plagues this state, Bill S1 is just a sop to the suburban voters who swung the last election to Christie.

Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a group that advocated intelligent planning and development in the state and has been an advocate for affordable housing, offered a blunt assessment in a written statement that I received via e-mail earlier this afternoon:

We have little doubt that the good folks looking to re-shape the state’s affordable-housing policy are doing so with their own reasonable intentions. Unfortunately, the product of these intentions, embodied in the just-passed S-1 legislation, creates an affordable-housing system that can only be described as a non-affordable housing system. The current proposal will: 1) produce fewer opportunities for low- and moderate-income households, and has the strong possibility of creating absolutely no opportunities at all; 2) generate less funding to subsidize housing; and 3) remove any accountability from the state or towns to even attempt to create affordable housing, let alone actually produce any.

He said that the bill “relies on local good will to generate housing that isn’t being produced by the market” and that “the Senate has thrown out the baby, the bathwater and the tub.”

This may be viewed by some people as a necessary and radical re-thinking of affordable housing, but that would be the case only if the new system had some chance of producing affordable housing, especially near jobs and transportation choices. We have repeatedly asked those involved to explain how the new system will result in more affordable-housing opportunities (or any opportunities, for that matter), and we have yet to receive a cogent answer.

This is not a surprise, given that the backers of this bill have no answer to this question.

Just as troubling is that the bill will create a web of conflicts and counterintuitive results, according to Kevin Walsh, of the Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group in Cherry Hill. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer before the vote that the bill “is going to lead to strange results, like wealthy municipalities getting off the hook and older towns that already have their fair share of affordable housing being expected to do more.”

Rural towns, according to environmental advocates, are hit hardest by the new rules, or as hard as they can be given the toothlessness of the bill.

“All these places with more trees than people aren’t exempt,” despite the fact that they are not near jobs, noted Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The bill now goes to the Assembly, but I have little hope that anyone in that august body will do anything to stop it. Then it is off to the governor to be signed into law — unless the state Supreme Court steps in, as it should, and stops the entire effort in its tracks.

In the end, the legislation is nothing but a disgusting bit of pandering that will leave low-income people in the lurch, where politicians always leave them.

Comment (1)

  1. sandy23

    the bus the Democratic base has just been thrown under.  I am appalled at the cowardice of so many Democratic Senators who wouldn’t even vote!!

    This vote has convinced me once again that our legislators do not have a clue about what is really going on out there.

    People are suffering under the onerous burden of high rental costs, utility costs and stagnant wages..

    My non for profit agency has some ARRA (stimulus) funding for homeless prevention grants especially for back rents and utilitiy arrears.  We cannot keep up with the demand for help.  We are booked with appointments (4/day) until July3 and get 15 to 20 calls per day for future appointments.  

    Calls are screened for eligibility and applicants must verify need. The stories are heartbreaking.   People are working and trying to do the right things but they are not making it.  When someone  is assisted by us they must participate in a financial counseling session and most just don’t make enough to pay rent, utilities, food etc.

    This complete disintegration of the affordable housing system is another instance of short sighted planning and indifference to the needs of working people in NJ.

    But beware,this is not only about poor and low income people, it’s about firemen, policemen, secretaries,and retail workers who are not only facing unemployment but now homelessness,is riding that bus.

    Reply

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