Author Archive: Adam Gordon at Fair Share Housing Center

Heck of a Job, Christie!

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Today, the Christie Administration announced its plan for the next $1.4 billion in Sandy funds. The bottom line: the recovery from Sandy is apparently, in the Governor’s mind, going so well, that it’s time to double down on the same strategy!

The plan, released today, keeps going on the same strategy that led to 75% of people impacted by Sandy saying the Administration does not care about people like them.

The plan opens a 30-day comment period, with public hearings next week in Newark, Middletown, and Galloway. These hearings are good opportunities to voice the widespread dissatisfaction with Sandy recovery to date – there is a sign up in advance to speak.

The details below the fold…

The $70 million mirage

We at Fair Share Housing Center had to sue the Christie Administration in order to get basic information about how they are spending billions in federal aid on Sandy. It took four months from filing an Open Public Records Act request to finally getting the information, which, when finally released, raised serious questions about the fairness of the process for allocating Sandy funds.

So it was to our great interest to see the Christie Administration all of the sudden claiming to be VERY transparent about one aspect of those funds – how much money was going to Hoboken – they said $70 million. Obviously, they were motivated to do so by Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim on national television of threats to not provide Sandy aid unless a development was approved. For the record, we know nothing about those claims and are not in a position to evaluate them.

But we ARE in a position to evaluate the Christie Administration’s $70 million claim. And it’s shockingly misleading and off the mark.

More below the fold…

Future of Fair Housing in NJ at Stake in Wed. Court Argument

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On Wednesday at 10 am, the New Jersey Supreme Court will consider a request by Governor Christie and wealthy municipalities to allow towns to exclude low- and moderate-income families, seniors, and people with special needs, reversing four decades of court rulings. The argument is the most important fair housing case in New Jersey in 30 years.

You can watch the hearing live or afterwards here.

The argument is about upholding a practical and fair solution that’s good for communities, and good for business. A broad and unusual array of groups – ranging from Fair Share Housing Center to the NAACP and Latino Action Network to special needs organizations to New Jersey’s Catholic Charities to the Housing and Community Development Network, New Jersey Future, and the American Planning Association to the New Jersey Builders Association and other business groups – have asked the Supreme Court to affirm existing law and require that every municipality allow for its fair share of homes affordable to low- and moderate-income people.

Over the last few weeks, planners, community leaders, special needs housing providers, and civil rights leaders all speak out on the importance of housing opportunities for all citizens of New Jersey.  

The groups on the other side of the case – Governor Christie and wealthy municipalities – ask the Supreme Court to overturn four decades of fair housing law and risk the gains New Jersey, and the country, has made because of it. They would dismantle a system that a recent Princeton University study found has massive educational and economic impacts – such as a 25 percent increase in earnings and a 67 percent drop in welfare use.

More below the fold…

Triple veto by Christie on housing bills undermines NJ economic recovery

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Over the past several days, Gov. Christie took decisive action to weaken New Jersey’s economy by vetoing three important legislative initiatives to revive our troubled housing market.

Take it from the head of the NJ Association of Realtors talking to NJBiz:

According to New Jersey Association of Realtors CEO Jarrod Grasso, foreclosed properties – which are now hitting New Jersey’s residential real estate market at a record pace – “have been the albatross preventing true recovery in the state. . . . We’re hopeful that, though the governor doesn’t support this bill, that it will be called back to the table.”

That was about the New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act (S-1566/A-2168), which was supported by housing advocates, municipalities, bankers, special needs groups, and developers, to name a few. It would have reused foreclosed properties to create much-needed housing affordable to lower-income households.

Christie also vetoed bipartisan legislation (S-2011/A-2950), which would have extended the deadline to spend over $200 million in municipal housing trust funds by two years, and budget language which would have provided a safe harbor for municipalities to commit these trust funds rather than having them taken by the state for use in the General Fund.

Assemblyman and Housing and Local Government Committee Chair Jerry Green issued a statement expressing his disappointment and frustration with the Governor’s action stating, “The governor spent a good amount of time yesterday talking about helping the people of New Jersey.  I’m not sure what segment of the population he was referring to, but it’s certainly not the working class families of New Jersey.  Under this administration, they are on their own.”

The Legislature really stepped up to the plate in seeking solutions to New Jersey’s housing crisis, in which foreclosure filings have climbed 86% in the past year and are at triple the national average. Longtime champions of fair housing among the Democratic majority such as Green, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg worked hard to craft innovative and important solutions to this economic problem, and deserve praise for bringing together a wide array of support to move New Jersey’s housing market forward.

We also were glad to see leaders in the Governor’s own party including Senators Diane Allen, Christopher Connors, and Robert Singer, Assembly members DiAnne Gove, Amy Handlin, and David Wolfe, and mayors from throughout the state recognize the need to take action to fix New Jersey’s broken housing market.

More below about what comes next…

Garrett tries to sneak through pro-redlining bill

Scott Garrett is at it again.

Presumably following the wishes of his Wall Street funders, Garrett is attempting to slip through at the last minute an amendment to next year’s federal budget to block enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The bill would stop the federal government from taking action against banks that redline against people of color, families with young children (remember those banks that wouldn’t give loans to pregnant women?), or people with disabilities.

The legislation is an amendment to HR 5972 (the “Garrett Amendment”) which would prohibit the Department of Housing Development (HUD) from issuing and enforcing regulations concerning the Fair Housing Act that protect against policies that discriminate based on race, ethnicity, familial status, and disability.

It is going to be voted on today and just came to light this morning. Please reach out to members of the House that you know – CALL the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asked to be connected to your Representative’s office.  When the receptionist answers, ask to speak to the staffer who handles appropriations or housing. If you are sent to voicemail, please leave a detailed message. Please also be sure to follow up with an e-mail to the staffer (FirstName.LastName@mail.house.gov).

This is scary stuff – which is why Garrett is trying to rush it through. Kudos to the National Fair Housing Alliance for bringing this to light.

New research shows NJ’s housing policy works

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About 200 people gathered at Princeton University today to reflect on the 40 years since the Southern Burlington County and Camden County NAACP branches sued Mount Laurel Township over its exclusion of low- and moderate-income families, particularly families of color. The event focused on a new study, by Doug Massey, the author of American Apartheid and one of the most prominent scholars of race and class issues in America, of 140 townhouses in Mount Laurel that resulted from that historic lawsuit that are now occupied by families earning between $7,000 and $60,000 a year. Massey spent the past four years conducting the most comprehensive study ever undertaken anywhere in the country of the impact of new homes that working families can afford in a fast-growing, high-opportunity community like Mount Laurel. What he found is nothing short of astonishing: the 140 families who had an opportunity to rent these modest homes were able to get better jobs, rely less on welfare, get their kids a better education, and improve their physical and mental health – all while the surrounding community saw none of the doomsday impacts that naysayers had predicted.

Massey introduced his research by quoting Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said “we’re all entitled to our own opinion, but not our own facts.” He cited the purposes of the “Monitoring Mount Laurel Study” as taking a set of issues that had long been the subject of mainly political debate and empirically analyze it so that there was a basis of facts on what actually happened on the ground. In theory, residential location is closely connected to educational and economic opportunity, and so if zoning keeps people away from those opportunities artificially, it potentially has a significant impact on those opportunities. Massey cited the work of William Julius Wilson, the Harvard scholar whose book When Work Disappears had significant impacts on both conservative and liberal thinking about cities and neighborhoods, as emphasizing the connections between location and access to opportunity and putting these ideas on the map. However, many of the details of this theory have historically been, in Massey’s words, “out there in the ether” without enough rigorous study of actual impacts. This study allowed for an unbiased, data-driven look at what happened – which would either vindicate or disprove the concept that by overcoming zoning barriers, families would have better access to jobs and education.

Massey said he focused on Mount Laurel because, by quirks of how it worked, it offered an unusually good opportunity to research data in detail – what social scientists call a “natural experiment.” Because over 2400 people applied for the 140 townhouses in Mount Laurel, and they were largely randomly selected, Massey could compare people who had the opportunity to live in the development with those who wanted to but weren’t allowed to do so. Also, Massey was able to look at Mount Laurel as compared against its neighbor Evesham, which is highly similar to Mount Laurel – except that no development comparable to Ethel Lawrence Homes was built there (during the time studied at least – since then, 100 townhomes opened there which over 2000 people applied for).

The results found no impact on crime, property taxes, or home values resulting from the development opening. Most people in the surrounding area didn’t even know that the development was for working families as it looks pretty much identical to surrounding developments.

The impacts on the families living in the townhomes, however, were strong. They experience a 170% increase in likelihood of employment, with an increase of over 20% of their total income coming from work (as opposed to relying on public benefits like welfare).  They also experienced lower stress and better mental health, in large part because of lower exposure to drugs, gangs, and crime, which in itself probably helped with mental health and employment.

The survey also looked at the impact on children, particularly their schools. The impact on overall GPA for the children was 0.19, a modest increase. This is surprising given that in many cases kids moved into the more challenging Mount Laurel schools from lower performing districts. The impacts came from three main sources: parents got more involved in schools, kids spent more time studying, and the school environment was more orderly.

My colleague Peter O’Connor talked about how this all happened on the ground – through a mix of building alliances of community groups supporting housing choices, litigation, and financing to build homes. He also shared additional information about the children who moved into the development – they are actually more proficient at math and reading than the state as a whole, and perform higher on math proficiency than Mount Laurel Township as a whole, despite being poorer than most students in the Township or the state. He also emphasized the importance of the close partnership with the Mount Laurel school system to help them better deal with race and class diversity – something they have done an excellent job of addressing.

For the afternoon, the lineup has on tap reactions from various people with different vantage points on housing policy in New Jersey: Timothy Touhey, the head of the New Jersey Builders Association, Diane Sterner who runs the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, Tony Marchetta who runs the state’s Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and Ed Schmierer, a prominent municipal attorney. Then Michael Stegman, a top housing policy official in the Obama Administration, is giving the closing speech.

The lesson from today: New Jersey’s state housing policy, which Gov. Chris Christie has done his best to dismantle in his two years in office, has worked for tens of thousands of families. We need to continue on the same path while instituting reforms to make it work better – not gut it as the Governor has proposed.

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.  

Court overturns Christie’s attempt to expand executive power, reinstates COAH’s independent board

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Last Thursday, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey invalidated Gov. Christie’s abolition of the Council on Affordable Housing, ruling that New Jersey’s State Constitution and statutes do not allow Gov. Christie to unilaterally abolish independent agencies.  

I’d previously outlined the case in a post here, shortly after oral argument on February 15.  As I mentioned in that post, if the court had held that the Governor in fact had the power to abolish the boards of independent agencies, “then every time a board member of an independent agency makes a decision, she will be afraid of being fired if she disagrees with the Governor, the exact opposite of the intent of such agencies. No independent agency really would be independent.” The Court agreed, finding that only the Legislature, not the Governor, has the power to reorganize independent agencies.

The Court’s reasoning, in the decision available here,  followed the conservative modes of legal reasoning that the Governor claims to believe in, following a careful statutory and constitutional reading. The Court relied on quotes from Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the proper separation of powers in the original meaning of the Constitution to reject Governor Christie’s argument that the constitution gave him unlimited power to change the structure of state government, stating that “While the framers of our Constitution intended to create a strong executive in the office of Governor (perhaps the strongest in the United States), they also recognized the need to insulate functions and agencies from executive control.”

More below…

Gov. Christie Claims Power to Abolish Independent Agencies

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In a case we at Fair Share Housing Center argued before New Jersey’s Appellate Division last week, the Christie Administration took a sweeping new position: the Governor has the power to abolish any independent agency through the Executive Reorganization Act of 1969, a statute never before interpreted this way. That means that if ELEC, the Board of Public Utilities, or the State Ethics Commission did something that the Governor didn’t like, he could get rid of it, and instead take over the administration of, say, campaign finance law through a cabinet official reporting directly to him.

This case came out of Gov. Christie’s action to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) which he said he was doing because he had “always believed that municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing” – even in cases in which, say, a local council decides they don’t want disabled veterans in their town.

More below…

Dr. King, Gov. Christie, and Segregation

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It’s amazing to think that if Dr. King’s life had not come to a tragic end, he might have still been with us today. Yesterday would have been his 82nd birthday. No doubt he would not be silent.

Recently, I was talking with a pastor who marched with Dr. King. He told us that when he heard Gov. Christie’s rhetoric on local rights to ban certain people from their community, it sounded a lot like the states rights rhetoric of Southern politicians who resisted the Civil Rights Movement:

“I’ve always believed municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing, without being micromanaged and second-guessed from Trenton.”

– Chris Christie, on abolishing the independent Council on Affordable Housing and placing it under his direct control (which we at Fair Share Housing are currently challenging in court).

“Let the poll tax be repealed, if it should be, at the proper place. We have not yet come to the state of affairs in Georgia where we need the advice of those who would occupy the position of the carpetbagger and the scalawag of the days of Reconstruction to tell us how to handle our internal affairs.”

– Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, opposing federal legislation on voting rights.