Housing bill on the Governor’s desk

After a year-long debate on the future of starter homes for families, seniors, and people with special needs, the Legislature yesterday took the final action necessary to put S1/A3447 on the Governor’s desk for his signature, with an amended final bill passed by both houses.  The legislation has improved substantially since the earlier version of S1 June 2010, but still reduces the number of homes required in New Jersey by over 50 percent.

Under the final bill, municipalities are actually required to provide opportunities for housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families, based on a simple percentage of the total homes in the town.  Two key bad features in earlier bills have been removed:

• Municipalities can no longer meet all of their obligations by providing expensive housing for households earning up to 150% of median income.  

• Developers will actually be required to provide housing that is affordable rather than simply paying a small fee to avoid making a development inclusionary.  

In those ways, and many others, S1/A3447 is much better legislation than what was originally proposed by Sen. Lesniak as the replacement to the Council on Affordable Housing.  

The legislation reflects significant input from FSHC and many of our allies, including housing, planning, and civil rights organizations, a broad range of faith communities, special needs and supportive housing providers, and over 100 other groups that opposed the original S-1. With the help of many of you – including many of you on BlueJersey – we shaped the debate through preparing analyses, sharing information with the media, and helping mobilize our grassroots allies. Our many voices persuaded the Assembly – with the leadership of Housing and Local Government Committee Chair and Vice-Chair Green and Jasey, Speaker Oliver, and Majority Leader Cryan – to reject the Senate’s demand that its bad legislation pass by June 30, 2010.  We consider the progress an important accomplishment for the broad movement of New Jerseyans who oppose exclusionary land use practices – which according to a national study by the Brookings Institution are the most exclusionary in the country.

Unfortunately, as with the legislation that passed the Assembly late in 2010, the version that is now on the Governor’s desk falls far short of the number of homes needed to comply with the Mount Laurel doctrine.  As a result of amendments made yesterday, which reduce obligations largely in shore towns, we project that the S1/A3447 will require about 48,000 units of affordable housing to be provided over the next ten years – or an over 50 percent reduction from COAH’s Third Round numbers and a 13 percent reduction from the version that passed the Assembly just a month ago (you can see our complete town-by-town analysis here).

Yesterday’s legislative votes now puts the issue front and center with Governor Christie. While he considers whether to sign S1/A3447, he also faces a court deadline of March 8, 2010 for COAH to adopt revised Third Round regulations – a process that COAH has admitted in court filings it has not even begun.  If the Governor does not sign this bill, and COAH continues to delay, we will seek to have the courts take over the process. If we need to reach that last resort, we are optimistic that the judiciary will keep its promise from the Mount Laurel decisions that, while it does not build houses, it does enforce the constitution.  

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