It’s fascinating the way this sub-category of disapproval of S-1 developed over just a few days, including the good questions raised by legislators looking out for the interests of South Jersey – promoted by Rosi Efthim
One of the key reasons the Assembly has slowed the “runaway train” of S-1 has been the unpopularity of the bill in South Jersey. The particular issues with the bill in South Jersey reveal not only the flaws of the legislation, but also provide a good example of how the North-South political dynamic plays a role in major policy decisions in Trenton.
The South Jersey revolt against S-1 began with Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden/Gloucester. When S-1 passed the Senate last Thursday, June 10, Sen. Norcross abstained. In a Courier-Post article the next day, Sen. Norcross explained his reasoning: because South Jersey contains more single family homes, they would be disproportionately affected by the arbitrary standards established under the bill. This means that a town like Hoboken in North Jersey gets an exemption as a result of a $3,600 a month apartment like this, while this Monroe Township family rental home in Gloucester County that costs $975 a month is not. Already diverse South Jersey towns like Pennsauken and Deptford, consisting of mostly single family homes, end up taking more of the burden, while exclusive North Jersey towns get to avoid their fair share requirements in their lofty, expensive, cityscape high-rises. “The fact that that primarily would be the driving force, and zero to do with affordability, is outrageous,” said Senator Norcross. Sen. Madden, D-Gloucester, also abstained, likely for the same reasons.
Why does the bill discriminate against South Jersey? In the current draft, driven mainly by a North Jersey Senator, Ray Lesniak, D-Union, a town is “inclusionary” if a third of the towns housing stock consists of attached housing- apartments, townhouses, or condominiums. This creates the obvious problem that towns can be deemed inclusionary without price and actual affordability coming into play. South Jersey is the more affordable part of the state – but also the least dense part of the state, with most people living in single-family homes. Based on the legislation’s standard, many of New Jersey’s wealthier northern communities can be deemed “inclusionary’ and excluded from rezoning requirements even if the houses in those municipalities are not affordable.
As the bill moved to the Assembly this week, the controversy grew. Assemblyman John Burzichelli of Cumberland County expressed “great concern” on the bill’s disproportionate impact on South Jersey. His district-mate, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley of Cumberland County, expressed concern as to the burden created by S-1, and its effects on rural and farm communities in South Jersey. She then asked a tough question to DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa at yesterday’s Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee hearing on the subject.
An interesting counterpoint came from Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem, who voted for S-1. He said he “would not allow legislation to go forward that would hurt communities in South Jersey”. However, an article citing our analysis showed that S-1 would exempt roughly 43 percent of municipalities in North Jersey but only 24.7 of municipalities in Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester and Camden counties (OK, Ocean County isn’t part of South Jersey, but still you get the idea). While 17 of 25 Gloucester County municipalities, 10 of 14 Cumberland County municipalities, and 12 of 15 in Salem County would be required to provide additional affordable housing, no municipalities in all of Hudson would have to provide their fair share.
From our perspective, we need housing at all price levels in areas of growth, with jobs and infrastructure. This leads many to question why rural communities have such an increased obligation, while northern communities experiencing growth do not. Despite the fact that growth in North Jersey continues to increase, their fair share requirements have not, and the South Jersey landscape will inevitably feel the greatest impact.
Fair Share Housing Center intern Michael McQueeney helped write this post.