Author Archive: Adam Gordon at Fair Share Housing Center

Mary and Joseph visit the Statehouse Looking for a Home

This happened Thursday in Trenton, and was written just after. We held the promotion till today. – promoted by Rosi

This morning, clergy and laypeople from around New Jersey gathered in Trenton, led by Mary and Joseph, to walk the halls of the Statehouse looking for a home. The walk, building off of the Latin American Las Posadas tradition, visited the Governor’s office, Senate and Assembly Majority and Minority Offices, the Senate Budget Committee, and Assembly Telecommunications Committee to deliver a Christmas message that all of our communities should make “room at the inn” for hard working New Jersey families.

The Interfaith Community Action Network group, led by Rev. Julia Hamilton of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, Fr. Tim Graff of the Newark Archdiocese, Marlene Lao-Collins of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, Rev. Bruce Davidson of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, and clergy and laypeople from Camden, East Brunswick, Lodi, Princeton, Summit, and Trenton, to name a few, greeted lobbyists and elected officials. A pregnant Mary and a staff-carrying Joseph showed up in committee hearings, legislative offices, and the Governor’s office to ask participants in the Trenton scene to take a minute to think about the Christmas story, and the meaning of there being no room at the inn.

“In many New Jersey towns, Mary and Joseph would definitely not be welcome today – they would just be seen as a bringing a poor child into the school system which would mean property taxes might go up.”

Rev. Davidson said.

more below the fold

An Easy Economic Stimulus: Over $250 Million Sitting in Housing Funds

promoted by Rosi

In an era where every dollar is needed by state and local government and unemployment is high, you might figure that no stone has been left unturned in finding sources of funding and ways to create jobs.

According to an excellent investigative report by Maya Rao of the Philadelphia Inquirer, you would be wrong. Municipal governments would rather sit on over $250 million in trust funds collected for the purpose of building starter apartments and homes for people with special needs than spend it.

The article finds $263 million in unspent funds around the state. That’s a lot of homes not being built and a lot of jobs not being created.

In fact, more than 50 towns statewide have spent NO money since 2005 on actually creating homes despite having growing trust fund accounts. Seems that they want to keep out lower-income people so much that they would rather sit on the money than actually do anything.

You would think that, if nothing else, the new housing legislation being pushed by Sen. Ray Lesniak (S-1/A-3447) would get this money spent.

And you would be wrong. In fact, Sen. Lesniak’s bill would make the problem worse. In the future, ALL obligations could be met through payments to trust funds instead of actually building homes. Leaving, well, even more money sitting around, and adding costs for non-profits who want to use that money to try to dislodge the funds by hiring lawyers. More bureaucracy and fewer homes – exactly the opposite of what this legislation should be trying to achieve.

There’s more …

Business leaders: bad housing bill = jobs going to PA

promoted by Rosi

While the Legislature and Gov. Christie fiddle with a badly flawed housing bill, NJ’s economy burns – especially in the cradle of the state’s economic strength in the 80s and 90s, the Route One corridor.

A joint op-ed today by a cross-section of non-profits and business leaders in the Ledger calls the Route One corridor – “Einstein’s Alley” between Rutgers and Princeton – “poorly positioned to attract private sector investment as the economy rebounds.” It suggests that Educational Testing Services – one of the main employers – is considering moving future jobs to Pennsylvania because its employees can’t find homes here. And it says that municipalities in the Route One corridor, based on a study by PlanSmart NJ, will only allow one home for every four new jobs (as compared to a historic one to one ratio) – which will produce Los Angeles-style traffic congestion by 2025.

Hello? Is anyone in the State House listening?

Instead of addressing this problem, which stems from, according to the article, “too little zoning for housing,” the Legislature seems bent on making it worse. The Housing and Local Government on Monday passed a bill that would expand municipalities’ ability to turn down starter homes and apartments. Which would likely lead to even fewer homes in the Route One corridor. And more jobs moving out of state.

The op-ed calls for a better approach to state laws on housing and planning. That approach would focus a wide range of new homes – for families at all income levels plus seniors and people with special needs – near jobs and transportation. If towns like West Windsor and Plainsboro are going to see massive job growth, they should not be able to turn down homes for the people working in those jobs.

Then again, if the Legislature moves forward with its current proposal, the jobs just might follow the homes, as the CEO of ETS hints in the article – all the way to Pennsylvania.

Assembly moves expensive homes bill forward despite unanimous opposition

promoted by Rosi

A packed house of civil rights leaders, environmentalists, municipal officials, special needs groups, developers, and religious groups showed up in State House Committee Room 11 at noon today for a November surprise: a hearing on a housing bill that had been substantially rewritten, with a thick packet of amendments handed out after the meeting already started.

“Even some lawyers might have a problem understanding the language in this particular bill,” Chairman Jerry Green said near the start – and indeed, audience members and even committee members were puzzling over what, exactly, the many new changes sprung at the last minute mean. Apparently, according to Chairman Green, there were a series of meetings earlier this morning with various groups (though we confirmed that no housing groups, environmentalists, civil rights groups, or special needs groups were invited) that led to these changes. Even DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa said she had not seen these changes in her extensive remarks opposing the bill.

The bill changes don’t fix the critical flaws with the bill: that in all instances developers can pay a fee that will then sit in a fund for years instead of actually building homes; and that towns can comply based on homes that cost as much as $600,000.

And the changes didn’t really seem to please anyone (which was kind of a surprise to many groups that were excluded from the morning meeting and thought some kind of deal had been cut). The key takeaway message: NOBODY testified in support of the bill. All opposed – for many overlapping reasons and some differing reasons – include the Christie Administration, the NAACP, League of Municipalities, New Jersey Builders Association, NAIOP, the Housing and Community Development Network, the New Jersey Regional Coalition, the Sierra Club, the Highlands Coalition, the Coalition on Affordable Housing and the Environment, the (usually fairly nonpartisan) New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association, New Jersey Future, and the Chamber of Commerce.

To name a few.

It’s usually kind of hard to pass legislation that nobody supports. Yet the committee voted to pass the bill anyway, 4 in favor, one abstaining (Vandervalk), one opposed (Carroll), and one absent (Greenstein, whose district would be hit particularly hard by the bill’s strange “expensive homes” requirement, the subject of a report we released today.

So what’s happening here? It seems like there is a lot of pressure to do something based on a fear that they will get attacked by the Governor and a feeling among many, including Chair Green, that they have sat on the issue long enough. And everyone agrees – they should do something – we need a more effective state housing policy.

But the details seem to have gotten kind of mixed up, with a hodge podge of ideas from Green and other Assembly leaders (many of which are quite good) and Ray Lesniak seeking to preserve aspects of his now-infamous S-1 legislation (many of which are quite bad). The result is a stew that nobody really seems to like, and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when  put together. Some exurban towns like Jackson and Woolwich have to build thousands of homes costing as much as $600,000; others have to do nothing; and still others are just going to collect more “payment in lieu” fees when they are already sitting on millions of dollars in unspent past fees, a problem that caused committee members, especially Asm. Scalera, considerable consternation during the debate.

They moved the bill out of committee; but it’s hard to see this ending up being what happens. Because, well, legislation doesn’t usually pass that nobody supports.

We will keep you posted when we know more on the next step of this continually unusual process…

S-1…. It’s BAAAACK – and we need your help

promoted by Rosi

As bytheshore73 deftly noted earlier this week, something strange is going on in Trenton on housing issues. Gov. Christie chided Speaker Oliver for not moving on legislation to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) when what the Assembly was doing that day was… well… introducing legislation to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing, that had been shared with members of Christie’s cabinet twice the week before. Is this just an example of the Governor shooting from the hip, or something more?

In part, shooting from the hip. In part, something more… well, more pernicious… and we need your help on that part by calling Asm. Jerry Green at 908-561-5757.

You see, pretty much everyone – builders, civil rights groups, environmentalists, housing advocates, municipalities – agrees that we should get rid of COAH, especially after we won a court decision earlier this month tossing out its current rules as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

But, as you might imagine, there are widely divergent views on what comes next.

find out why below the fold

Court throws out COAH rules, provides blueprint for housing reform

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.

The ARC of Destruction: A Bad Decision and Its Far-Reaching Effects

promoted by Rosi

You might wonder why a housing group is posting about the ARC Tunnel.

It’s the economy, stupid.

When New Jersey’s economy is strong, development grows – and, because of our strong state housing laws, more housing choices result for people of all incomes.

When New Jersey’s economy is weak, it’s a lot harder to build homes, create jobs, do much of anything.

And this decision is going to make our economy weaker and mean less investment in our state and fewer jobs. New Jersey Future and the Regional Plan Association have both very concisely and eloquently explained why that is, and I encourage you to read their blogs.

Here’s the really short version: New Jersey did THE EXACT SAME THING before on a smaller scale, with Midtown Direct, in the mid-1990s. And it, along with two similar projects, increasing connections to New York boosted home values in NJ by $11 billion, representing $250 million in annual new property taxes in municipalities. It spurred levels of construction in towns like Maplewood and South Orange that hadn’t been seen in decades. And it meant that increasing numbers of higher-income people who work in New York moved to NJ instead of Westchester or Connecticut. Not to mention creating 6,000 good-paying, union construction jobs along the way.

So we KNOW that this will work – unlike many other economic development schemes that are questionable at best. It’s not partisan – if anything these are what you would think of as conservative, pro-business talking points. You know, a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s why not-exactly-progressive publications like Crain’s New York Business and the Economist are panning this choice.

Oh and by the way the state only had to pay less than one-third of the cost of the ARC Tunnel – with money that otherwise not only comes from outside sources and is not likely to go to NJ, but according to this morning’s news carries a penalty of up to $300 million to pay back.

And the cost overruns cited by Gov. Christie? The federal government hasn’t even done an analysis of them yet – it’s supposed to come out in the next few days. He’s just speculating on numbers.

This decision is bad for jobs, it’s bad for housing, and it’s bad for the future of New Jersey. It just doesn’t make any sense. And it’s even more of a challenge to the Legislature to come up with an alternative vision of the future of the state that will produce economic development, jobs, and housing that benefit all New Jerseyans.

Marlboro Mayor Disses Newark and JC – Poll to Help Us Crack the Code!

promoted by Rosi

Marlboro Mayor Jonathan Hornik has reacted to his town’s housing plan being thrown out because they acted in bad faith with some rather extreme rhetoric.

Never mind that you have to REALLY mess up to get tossed in this way – it’s the first time that it’s happened to any town in a few years. But when you voluntarily sign a legal agreement and then don’t follow through on your end, and then ignore an agency’s rules for more than a year despite repeated requests, there kinda have to be some consequences.

But, hey, this whole crusade thing is a bit much. Filing a lawsuit to present your side of the story – of course within your rights. But saying that the money to pay for it will be taken from the $13 million the town was supposed to spend on building modestly priced homes (significantly more unspent funds than any other town in the state)? That’s a bit brazen.

And then there’s this quote from Mayor Hornik:

The radical housing groups and the developers will not be happy until Marlboro looks like Jersey City and Newark, and it’s not going to happen.

What could the Mayor possibly mean? It’s hard to understand, so we’ve created a poll to help figure it out.

In any event, it’s pretty unimpressive rhetoric for a mayor in New Jersey in 2010 – and not such smart words for someone who might be looking for urban votes in the future.

A Tale of Two Towns: Marlboro Housing Plan Tossed Out, Union Township Approved

promoted by Rosi

In a decision issued this morning, Marlboro Township (Monmouth County), was removed from the protections of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) because the Council found that the municipality “consistently failed to demonstrate good faith” in meeting its housing obligations.  

At the same meeting, the Council approved the housing plans of Union Township (Union County), along with Cresskill Borough (Bergen County).

The comparison between Marlboro Township and Union Township gives a good perspective on what a sound housing policy looks like, and the deep flaws with S-1, which failed to pass the Legislature this spring. Marlboro Township was a prime proponent of S-1; Union Township – ironically the location of the office of S-1 sponsor Sen. Ray Lesniak, along with Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan – was deemed “exclusionary” by S-1 despite the town’s diversity and history of compliance with its legal obligations.

Marlboro Township has a history of flagrantly violating the state’s housing laws that would be comical if it weren’t true. Find out why below the fold….

Talking S-1 at the New Leaders Council awards event

Promoted by Jason Springer

Hi BlueJersey readers – it’s been a bit quieter on the S-1 front over the last few weeks – while the Legislature is not moving forward on S-1 at this time, we continue our discussions about a better approach to replacing COAH, based on the alternative proposal we and many other groups announced last month. Our summer intern Mike McQueeny brings us this blog report from Wednesday’s National Leaders Council event in New Brunswick.

Fair Share Housing Center was in attendance at Wednesday night’s kick-off event for the New Jersey Chapter of the New Leaders Council. The event was held to honor the work of 40 progressive leaders under the age of 40 across the nation, including Justin Krebs, the co-founder and Executive Director of Living Liberally and a New Jersey native. In the midst of the heated debate surrounding the controversial S-1 housing bill, FSHC came to spread the message that one can’t “live liberally” without somewhere to live.

The event was held in New Brunswick and included Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, and was scheduled to include Senator Raymond Lesniak. While Assemblyman Cryan could only stop in briefly, he graciously stopped around the room to speak to many of the guests to discuss legislation and trade some stories. Assemblywoman Quijano spoke at the event, and honored those named for their progressive leadership in various fields. Justin Krebs read from his recently released book, “538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal,” and shared a reading from one of its chapters.

FSHC’s hope in attending was to urge Senator Raymond Lesniak to support a wide range of housing choices, rather than allowing municipalities to exclude lower-income families through the arbitrary standards under S-1. Though Senator Lesniak was not in attendance, we were able to talk with the range of students, political staffers, lawyers, and other young politicos from around the state who were there.While some had not been previously aware of the full implications of S-1, all could understand its significance.

Of the many attendees that voiced their concerns, one remarked that all S-1 would accomplish would be to undo all the great strides over the previous 30 years. Another student in attendance remarked that because she lived in West New York, along what is referred to as the “gold coast” of New Jersey, the presence of expensive condos and townhouses were effectively pricing her out of the town she grew up – but under S-1, such towns would be exempted as “inclusionary” because they had a lot of expensive apartments. Another young professional in attendance that had served in the Corzine administration remarked that though A-500 didn’t achieve what everyone had hoped, at least it provided more housing affordable to low- and moderate-income people than would be created under S-1.

Though the event was premised around liberals, and the group promotes itself as progressives, some political issues, such as S-1, are not so clear cut. S-1 does not affect liberals, or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, but rather thousands of New Jerseyans of all backgrounds that will be shut out of many towns as a result of this bill. We need to replace COAH with a better housing policy that works for all New Jerseyans, instead of S-1 which would make New Jersey more unaffordable for middle-class families, the working poor, people in their 20s and 30s, and people with special needs.