Christie’s Trust Fund Raid Halted

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Today, Governor Christie handed Prince Harry a royal fleece as part of Sandy recovery. Unfortunately, the Christie Administration continues to royally fleece lower-income families displaced by Sandy. But a new court order holds out promise for the thousands of New Jersey residents still seeking a place to live after the storm.

Late yesterday afternoon, three judges from the New Jersey Appellate Division issued an order blocking the Christie administration’s seizure of up to $164 million in affordable housing trust funds. This marks the second time in the last year the Administration has attempted to seize funds intended to provide safe and affordable housing to our state’s poorest and most vulnerable families. A significant amount of these funds – 57 percent – were also already earmarked for towns in the nine counties hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.

The court’s order was made in response to an emergent application that we at Fair Share Housing Center filed following the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) adoption of a resolution on May 1, 2013. This resolution, at the request of the Christie Administration, required municipalities to surrender funds that were not “committed for expenditure.” Since the creation of trust funds over four years ago, municipalities have struggled immensely with “committing” funds because of the administration’s refusal to define “commit”, advise the public on how to protect to the funds and its extremely slow approval process of many time and contract sensitive spending plans.

Additionally, Christie’s misguided legal battle to abolish the state’s Council on Affordable Housing, New Jersey’s chief administrative body charged with oversight of the funds, has further complicated the lack of regulations on how the funds may be committed. The latest challenge comes because the Administration has not even followed the regulations that they do have on the matter.

If seized, thousands of low income and special needs families, many of which still remain homeless after the Hurricane, will lose the opportunity to live in a safe and affordable home. According to testimony by DCA Commissioner Richard Constable last week before the Assembly Budget Committee, the governor intends to place funds taken into the state’s General Fund.  For this reason, if taken, the funds would no longer be used to support the development of homes despite the critical need after Hurricane Sandy. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, it also “seems unlikely that the money would be used for other housing programs given Christie’s poor track record on affordable housing.”

As pointed out by the Star Ledger, “Christie just doesn’t understand the struggles of low-income families in the state.” If seized, municipal proposals for over 3000 homes designed for senior, special needs individuals and families would be lost. Examples of some of these developments include 148 affordable apartments serving Sandy victims in Middle Township, Cape May County; 120 homes for people with special needs in Edison, Middlesex County; and over 50 new Habitat for Humanity homes throughout Morris County.

The court’s order enjoining the seizure of trust funds is effective immediately.  Municipalities are no longer required to comply with the May 1, 2013 letters issued by the State.  The court’s order provides that the May 1, 2013 resolution “establishing a process for seizing municipal trust funds . . . is stayed pending further order of this court.”

Oral argument on the issue of whether the court’s injunction should be made permanent, is scheduled for June 5, 2013 at 2 p.m. at Veteran’s Courthouse, 50 W. Market Street, Room 1114, Newark. We will keep Blue Jersey readers posted as this develops further.

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