On Christie Budget Raid, DCA Testimony Raises More Questions than Answers

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new Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the country to rent a home, with an 18% increase in rents over the last five years. And we have more than 100,000 homes in the foreclosure process.

We have the ability and funding in place to start to make a dent in these problems. There is over $200 million in municipal trust fund money from fees on developers, dedicated to entry-level homes. And $75 million from the national foreclosure settlement.

But Chris Christie needs this money – to provide tax cuts for millionaires. Otherwise his budget isn’t balanced.

It’s murky how he plans to do this. Like the controversial energy receipts fund, the affordable housing trust funds are supposed to be administered by municipalities – not sucked in by the state. The Legislature in 2008 passed a law giving towns four years to “commit” the money. But Christie refuses to give a clear answer as to what “commit” means, leaving the League of Municipalities and towns to fear that DCA will unfairly take the funds, never to be seen again.

Yesterday morning’s testimony by DCA Acting Commissioner Richard Constable provided more questions than answers. Constable could not explain where the $200 million would go, saying that a lot of it would go outside of his department. Which is problematic, because that’s where most of the state’s housing programs are. He said the Administration would comply with the law restricting such funds for housing uses – but wouldn’t say how.

Similarly, he had no answers on where the $75 million for foreclosure funds would go, except apparently not to DCA.  

Asm. Jerry Green, Sen. Ray Lesniak, and others have sponsored legislation that would encourage the renovation of foreclosed properties and allow the use of the trust funds to do it. It has received bipartisan support. But the Christie Administration has been resistant to that, and said at yesterday morning’s hearing that they have no planned program to address foreclosures.

Also, Asm. Anthony Bucco has introduced legislation to let municipalities keep the trust funds, and asked several questions of Constable about the funds.

Legislators of both parties know that the Christie Administration’s latest money grab is a bad idea, as do groups that are rarely on the same page, such as the League of Municipalities and housing advocates. But the concrete answers of what’s really going on are not provided. Because at the bottom is a simple truth: Chris Christie needs the money earmarked to fix New Jersey’s housing and foreclosure crisis to balance a budget based on tax cuts to millionaires.

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