Not sure everyone saw this, from Friday. – promoted by Rosi
Today, the New Jersey Appellate Division invalidated the Council on Affordable Housing’s (COAH) Third Round regulations. The court required a return to basic constitutional principles to remove exclusionary zoning barriers to new homes for families, seniors, and people with special needs of all incomes.
Basically, the court said three things, agreeing with Fair Share Housing Center and several homebuilders who had appealed the rules and rejecting a challenge by the New Jersey League of Municipalities:
(1) The need for homes must be met in a fair and predictable way;
(2) The plans to build homes must be backed by sufficient economic incentives for for-profit builders and/or realistic plans with non-profits, not just paper promises; and
(3) Municipalities may not implement exclusionary policies contrary to sound planning.
These three principles are the backbone of the Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel I and II decisions, and produced the nation’s most successful policy ever for homes affordable to both low- and moderate-income families and the middle class. A Lincoln Institute of Land Policy study found that the policies in place in the 1980s and 1990s under both Democratic and Republican governors successfully produced enough homes to keep housing prices affordable at all income levels, while comparable states saw skyrocketing housing prices.
Then for the past ten years a series of delays and maneuvers came up with multiple sets of unworkable rules. Now, the court has ordered a return to a simpler system based on what worked in the past, and given the Christie Administration five months to implement it.
Of course, the Administration and some members of the Legislature, particularly Sen. Ray Lesniak, spent this spring doing their best to come up with yet another totally unworkable set of rules through the proposed S-1, leading to opposition from everyone from the NAACP to every Catholic Bishop in NJ to the Sierra Club to the Mental Health Association. The Assembly decided to stop the bill after the outpouring of opposition and analyses that found the bill unconstitutional.
Now, Sen. Lesniak has reacted to the decision by stating that S1 will be back with “some improvements, some refinements and some clarifications.” Of course he also “declined to elaborate” on what those might be, continuing a bizarrely secretive process that has so far involved passing bills without the text being publicly available and denying the NAACP the right to testify. The process, according to Lesniak, will move fast, with a bill passed in the next 30 days (the latest in a series of urgent deadlines).
While we certainly support housing reform that works and that meets the constitutional principles that the court reiterated, the court decision today only reinforces why S-1 was unconstitutional and unworkable – nearly all of the key flaws in COAH’s rules that the court invalidated are shared by S-1. Perhaps the “improvements, refinements, and clarifications” might change that – but if they aren’t public, it’s hard for anyone to know.
In any event, we will keep you posted as this issue progresses, and applaud the court’s decision for recognizing that, especially in economically difficult times, New Jersey simply can’t afford job-killing exclusionary zoning.