Author Archive: Adam Gordon at Fair Share Housing Center

Assembly refuses to rush S-1; plans to work on comprehensive housing policy for the fall

Thanks for the shout-out. Promoted by Rosi Efthim

June 30 has come and gone – the day that Gov. Christie and Sen. Lesniak had set as their deadline for passing S1, the deeply flawed and unconstitutional proposal to overhaul New Jersey’s housing policy. Thanks to an upswell of opposition to S1 and to the leadership of Speaker Sheila Oliver, Majority Leader Joe Cryan, Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee Chair and Vice-Chair Jerry Green and Mila Jasey, and Assembly Economic Growth Committee Chair Al Coutinho, S1 did not pass. Instead, the Legislature will work on alternative approaches to changing New Jersey’s housing policy over the summer.

Looking back, June was quite a busy month for those who opposed S1:

June 3 – S1 voted out of Senate Economic Growth committee. Although there was a strong showing of opposition from a wide range of groups, Sen. Lesniak did not allow any testimony at the hearing.  

June 3 – Statement released by every Catholic Bishop in New Jersey in opposition to S1 and support of Mount Laurel doctrine.

June 7 – Star-Ledger editorial opposing S1 process; further editorials throughout June from Asbury Park Press, Courier-News, Home News Tribune, New Jersey Law Journal also oppose the bill.

June 9 – Over 100 civil rights, environmental, special needs and supportive housing, religious, and labor groups release statement in opposition to S1.

June 10 – S1 was passed by the Senate. Senator Rice, Turner and Weinberg voted no.  The following Senators abstained or did not vote:  Allen, Madden Jr., Ruiz, Ciesla, Norcross, Vitale, Doherty and Smith. Sen. Norcross shortly after criticizes the bill as unfair to South Jersey, and Sen. Weinberg releases a statement explaining her no vote.

June 15 – A coalition of over 15 groups propose an alternative approach instead of S1 in a Trenton press conference, including the NAACP, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, New Jersey Regional Coalition, Sierra Club, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Supportive Housing Association, and Coalition on Affordable Housing and Environment.

June 17 – The Assembly Housing and Local Government committee held a hearing on S1.  Everyone who signed up was able to testify, providing the first open public hearing on the bill.  The hearing took almost four hours, and large flaws with the bill were vocalized with overwhelming opposition to the bill. At the end of the hearing, the committee decided not to take a vote.

June 24 – The Assembly Budget committee voted out A3055, extending suspension of statewide non-residential development fee to October 30, 2010, to the full Assembly. After Assembly votes to pass the bill with overwhelming support, Senate refuses to hear it.

June 26 – Despite vocal statements by the Christie administration and Sen. Lesniak alluding to having the bill on Christie’s desk by the end of the month, Speaker Oliver quoted by the Star-Ledger stating, “[S1] will not get a vote in committee this summer but we hope to get it to a point where we can vote on it in the fall.”

As we celebrate an interim victory, we look forward to working with the wide range of groups opposed to S1 and legislative leadership this summer to come up with a better approach to New Jersey’s housing policy, expanding on the joint proposal presented at the June 15 press conference.

We would like to thank Assembly Speaker Oliver, Majority Leader Cryan, Committee Chairs Green and Coutinho, and Vice-Chair Jasey, along with Sens. Norcross, Rice, Turner, and Weinberg, for their efforts to slow the rapid movement of the bill. We now hope that they will work to see that the best possible bill presented to the Legislature in the fall.

Most of all, we thank those 100-plus groups, and all of you on BlueJersey who worked hard to stop what seemed like, in the words of the Asbury Park Press, a “runaway train” and had faith in the democratic process. There were so many people who we would have never met except through BlueJersey that played a critical role in stopping S1 – thanks so much to all of you! As I said at the Bloggers Breakfast at the DfA training this Sunday, nobody should understimate the power of the BlueJersey community to help push important public policy in NJ.

Special thanks also go to the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, which partnered with us in leading the opposition to S1.  

We know we have a long road still ahead of us, and we look forward to walking it with you together.

S-1 Standoff: Assembly Leadership Holds Strong

The process of how New Jersey should handle the need for affordable housing changed when there was an organized uprising of people calling for a more open process than what Sen. Ray Lesniak wanted to allow. We owe a lot to activists who flooded key legislators’ offices with calls demanding more transparency. And we owe a lot to those legislators who listened. But it’s not over. – promoted by Rosi Efthim

With the clock ticking towards Gov. Christie’s artificial June 30 deadline for passing the much-reviled S-1, the Assembly Budget Committee yesterday called the Governor’s bluff. Gov. Christie had come up with the June 30 deadline because that is when a moratorium on commercial developers paying a 2.5 percent fee on new development for housing trust funds is due to sunset. But everyone in Trenton knew that it was possible to extend the moratorium without simultaneously passing S-1. And yesterday the Assembly Budget Committee unanimously voted out a bill that would do just that.

The reaction: instant fury from Sen. Lesniak and Senate President Sweeney, who vowed not to allow the bill, A3055, see the Senate floor even though it is likely to pass the Assembly Monday with near-unanimous support. Lesniak and Sweeney supported the Governor’s fake deadline, with Lesniak calling the four month extension of the moratorium “an absolute waste of time.” Never mind that Lesniak himself authored the original bill imposing the year-long moratorium last year, and has been railing against its end for the past six months. (The fee comes from the landmark 2008 housing legislation A-500, and ironically was pushed by the non-residential developers themselves as a way to standardize such fees, which have been around for over two decades, across the state).

What is going on here? More after the jump.

The South Jersey S-1 Controversy

It’s fascinating the way this sub-category of disapproval of S-1 developed over just a few days, including the good questions raised by legislators looking out for the interests of South Jersey – promoted by Rosi Efthim

One of the key reasons the Assembly has slowed the “runaway train” of S-1 has been the unpopularity of the bill in South Jersey. The particular issues with the bill in South Jersey reveal not only the flaws of the legislation, but also provide a good example of how the North-South political dynamic plays a role in major policy decisions in Trenton.  

The South Jersey revolt against S-1 began with Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden/Gloucester. When S-1 passed the Senate last Thursday, June 10, Sen. Norcross abstained. In a Courier-Post article the next day, Sen. Norcross explained his reasoning: because South Jersey contains more single family homes, they would be disproportionately affected by the arbitrary standards established under the bill. This means that a town like Hoboken in North Jersey gets an exemption as a result of a $3,600 a month apartment like this, while this Monroe Township family rental home in Gloucester County that costs $975 a month is not. Already diverse South Jersey towns like Pennsauken and Deptford, consisting of mostly single family homes, end up taking more of the burden, while exclusive North Jersey towns get to avoid their fair share requirements in their lofty, expensive, cityscape high-rises. “The fact that that primarily would be the driving force, and zero to do with affordability, is outrageous,” said Senator Norcross.  Sen. Madden, D-Gloucester, also abstained, likely for the same reasons.

Why does the bill discriminate against South Jersey? In the current draft, driven mainly by a North Jersey Senator, Ray Lesniak, D-Union, a town is “inclusionary” if a third of the towns housing stock consists of attached housing- apartments, townhouses, or condominiums. This creates the obvious problem that towns can be deemed inclusionary without price and actual affordability coming into play. South Jersey is the more affordable part of the state – but also the least dense part of the state, with most people living in single-family homes. Based on the legislation’s standard, many of New Jersey’s wealthier northern communities can be deemed “inclusionary’ and excluded from rezoning requirements even if the houses in those municipalities are not affordable.

As the bill moved to the Assembly this week, the controversy grew. Assemblyman John Burzichelli of Cumberland County expressed “great concern” on the bill’s disproportionate impact on South Jersey. His district-mate, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley of Cumberland County, expressed concern as to the burden created by S-1, and its effects on rural and farm communities in South Jersey. She then asked a tough question to DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa at yesterday’s Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee hearing on the subject.

An interesting counterpoint came from Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem, who voted for S-1. He said he “would not allow legislation to go forward that would hurt communities in South Jersey”. However, an article citing our analysis showed that S-1 would exempt roughly 43 percent of municipalities in North Jersey but only 24.7 of municipalities in Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester and Camden counties (OK, Ocean County isn’t part of South Jersey, but still you get the idea). While 17 of 25 Gloucester County municipalities, 10 of 14 Cumberland County municipalities, and 12 of 15 in Salem County would be required to provide additional affordable housing, no municipalities in all of Hudson would have to provide their fair share.

From our perspective, we need housing at all price levels in areas of growth, with jobs and infrastructure. This leads many to question why rural communities have such an increased obligation, while northern communities experiencing growth do not. Despite the fact that growth in North Jersey continues to increase, their fair share requirements have not, and the South Jersey landscape will inevitably feel the greatest impact.

Fair Share Housing Center intern Michael McQueeney helped write this post.

 

S-1 hearing wrap-up, and our testimony

New Jersey’s progressive community – and some not so usual allies – slowed the S-1 juggernaut today. With about 40 speakers in opposition, and many more in the audience clapping in support, the bills many flaws became manifestly apparent. As one Blue Jersey commenter pointed out, anyone there could understand why Sen. Lesniak didn’t want to take testimony – S-1, quite simply, got torn apart from every angle.

It’s bad for South Jersey (as Asw. Riley pointed out to DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa, who avoided the question with a long discussion of the entire history of COAH); it’s bad for cities and first suburbs in North Jersey (as we pointed out in a spirited exchange with Asm. Green, who recognized that the bill would overly concentrate poverty in communities like Plainfield). And it’s bad for middle-class people like firemen and police – a point that Asm. Scalera’s questions focused heavily on.

It’s bad for builders and the economy – as many of the state’s big time builders (that’s the part about nontraditional allies) and the New Jersey Builders Association hammered home – not to mention Habitat for Humanity and the Housing and Community Development Network. It’s bad for the environment – as Dianne Brake of PlanSmart, Judy Remington of Coalition on Affordable Housing and the Environment, and Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club pointed out in extended testimony.

It would turn back the clock decades on civil rights, as the NAACP’s Kelly Francis and Mike McNeil pointed out in forceful testimony on the “Jim Crow” nature of the bill. And it would halt NJ’s progress in deinstitutionalizing people with special needs, as several groups working on supportive housing pointed out.

Oh, yeah, Steve Lonegan et al don’t like S-1 either which helps explain this morning’s rare sight of a Republican Assembly member, Michael Patrick Carroll, conducting a lengthy cross-examination of a member of Gov. Christie’s cabinet.

The only supporters of the bill were, well, not quite supporters – they all wanted amendments, in ways that seemed to contradict with each other. The non-residential developers, NAIOP, want changes. The Governor’s office wants changes. The League of Municipalities and New Jersey Conference of Mayors want changes. These changes do not, at least from what was discussed, sound like they overlap very much.

The Christie-Lesniak team still wants a bill passed by June 30 and are exerting tremendous pressure to do so. The rationales for the deadline are flimsy – a Lesniak quote in the Ledger mentioned the “fiscal year” (despite the lack of connection of this bill to the budget) and DCA Commissioner Grifa felt that things were close. But, as Asm. Green repeatedly said during the hearing, rushing the bill has many risks – of a court challenge or totally ineffective system.

Thanks so much to the Blue Jersey community – you have been great in your support on pushing the Legislature to reflect the will of its constituents. And thanks to Speaker Oliver, Majority Leader Cryan, Chairman Green, and Vice-Chair Jasey for slowing the process down.

But we’re not done yet –  the Governor and Sen. Lesniak are still trying to bully the Assembly into passing S-1. We need to keep the pressure up against the serious push we are seeing. Let me know at adamgordon@fairsharehousing.org if there are any members of the Assembly you can reach out to.

Our testimony, per several people’s request, is after the jump.

Live Blogging the S-1 Hearing

Promoted by Rosi

10:00 am – Assemblyman Green opened the hearing by reiterating that this is for discussion only; that we need a system; saying everyone will be heard; and asking for a civil debate. Introduces Commissioner Grifa.

10:05 am – Commissioner Grifa starts by quoting various people who are opposed to COAH. In the first few are Americans for Prosperity and an “anonymous blogger” who says COAH “creates ghettoes.” Also an anonymous quote about how “COAH forces us to change the character of our communities.” What, exactly, is meant by that “character”?

She urges the committee to pass legislation now.

10:20 am – Asm. Scalera asks some very reasonable questions – if there is $280 million sitting in trust funds, why aren’t we spending it?

Commissioner Grifa: we have local control over those funds, and so the state can’t do anything about them.

10:26 am – Asm. Riley asks one of the key questions in the debate – why the inclusionary standard in the bill discriminates against South Jersey.

Commissioner Grifa: Towns in NJ that are carrying numbers that go back decades (i.e. towns that did not do what they were supposed to do) – we are going to forgive prior unmet need going forward and start the passage of this legislation at the year zero.

(Waiting to see if Asm. Riley realizes that the answer has nothing to do with the question she asked).

She talks about the multifamily housing standard that defines units as affordable based on architecture – and how the administration wants to weaken this standard in some ways and not in other ways.

(OK, this still has nothing to do with Cumberland County.)

And now talks about what a town can do if not inclusionary – various criteria.

(OK, still doesn’t talk about why almost all of Salem and Cumberland County is not inclusionary and has to do more).

more beyond the jump…

Assembly puts the brakes on S-1

The S-1 runaway train has hit a bump in the road.

Finally, our political leadership has realized that ramming a deeply unpopular bill through the Legislature that has managed to alienate all of the Democrats’ core constituencies – and a few of the Republicans’ too – is not such a good idea.

Housing and Local Government Committee Chair Jerry Green released a statement late today stating “MY PRIORITY IS AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING LAW THAT WORKS, NOT ONE THAT IS RUSHED”. His words shows that he has been listening – a skill in short supply in this debate so far.

He, Vice Chair Mila Jasey, Speaker Oliver, and Majority Leader Cryan heard – from everyone – that we need reform of our state’s complex affordable housing laws.

But they also heard – from the NAACP, every Catholic Bishop in the state of NJ, the Sierra Club, Coalition on Affordable Housing and the Environment, and Pinelands Preservation Alliance, the New Jersey Regional Coalition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and so many others – that we need reform that produces more homes, that recognizes the diversity already present in our cities and first suburbs, and that we don’t want a prolonged court battle – we want to get it right the first time.

It can be hard to get elected officials to listen. But this bill is such a colossal disaster that finally the Assembly realized that it had to stop – both because it made no political sense, and because of the sheer force of the groups against it.

We are not out of the woods yet. Gov. Christie and Sen. Lesniak may still try to bully the Legislature into passing something by June 30, their arbitrary self-imposed deadline. Sen. Lesniak says exactly that in the Ledger. That’s why it’s so important to keep the pressure on – through phone calls to legislators and through attending the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee hearing this Thursday at 10 am in Committee Room 11.

And no doubt even if S-1 does not get passed this month, there will be more to come. New Jersey does need housing policy reform. And there will continue to be those who try to exploit that need for reform to push the wrong policies – that ask our cities and first ring suburbs to do more than their fair share, don’t produce homes, and destroy our environment.

But for this moment, at least, we have achieved a significant victory, thanks to many people coming together, and to the leadership of Oliver, Cryan, Green, and Jasey (with an important honorable mention to the senators who stood up to the S-1 juggernaut – Rice, Turner, Weinberg, and, with an unusually public and vocal abstention, Don Norcross). And BlueJersey has been a big part of that – thanks very much to all of you for making calls and spreading the word and to Rosi and Jason for their constant encouragement. We look forward to updating you on the hearing tomorrow and what comes next after.

We need your help to stop S-1!

Sen. Ray Lesniak denied housing, anti-poverty and enviro advocates from being heard when his questionable S-1 housing legislation was heard in committee. So, they get a hearing here. I don’t those two opportunities are equal, though, do you? Yeah, neither do I. They have put forward an alternative housing policy that deserves the legislature’s consideration. And they’re asking your help, Blue Jersey, in asking key lawmakers not to post S-1, but to open up the process. Can you help, Blue Jersey? Here’s the contact info: Speaker Sheila Oliver (973-395-1166) Housing Committee Chair Asm Jerry Green (908-561-5757) & Vice-Chair Asw Mila Jasey. (973-762-1886) – promoted by Rosi Efthim

For the past several months, we have been updating you on the ineffective, unconstitutional housing legislation proposed by Sen. Lesniak, S-1, which unfairly asks first-ring suburbs and South Jersey to do more than many wealthier North Jersey towns. The Assembly is deciding what to do about S-1, and we need your help.

The bill passed the Senate last week with the Democratic caucus closely divided between supporters and opposition/abstainers – and the Republicans nearly unanimously in support behind Gov. Christie’s charge to gut the state’s requirements that towns may not use their zoning to keep out low- and moderate-income people – and do so no later than June 30. We thank those who voted against the bill – Sen. Weinberg who released this excellent statement today, Sen. Rice, and Sen. Turner – and also Sen. Norcross who has spoken at length on the problems with S-1 and why he abstained.

Thursday, S-1 heads to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee. The question is whether the Assembly will roll over and pass a deeply flawed bill in order to meet Gov. Christie’s arbitrary deadline, or actually allow the public process that the Senate shut down – to a degree so extreme that NO public testimony was allowed on the bill the Senate voted on.

A wide range of groups – the NAACP, environmentalists, special needs housing providers, and housing advocates – proposed an alternative housing policy to replace COAH today. You can download an overview here. We had intended to present these ideas to the Senate and weren’t allowed to do so.

According to an article in the Asbury Park Press, Speaker Oliver is undecided about whether to post S-1 for a vote. We need your help to ask Assembly members to ask Speaker Oliver – and Housing Committee Chair Green and Vice-Chair Jasey – to not post S-1, and instead have an open public process to work on an alternative that actually meets the need for homes near jobs and transit instead of encouraging sprawl, recognizes differences between towns, treats all parts of the state fairly, and is constitutional.

Please e-mail me at adamgordon@fairsharehousing.org tomorrow if you are able to reach out to any members of the Assembly – thank you for your support!



PS Thank you Rosi for the help with making our diaries look better (i.e. HTML 101)!

S-1 heads to the Assembly, and we need your help!

For the past several months, we have been updating you on the ineffective, unconstitutional housing legislation proposed by Sen. Lesniak, S-1, which unfairly asks first-ring suburbs and South Jersey to do more than many wealthier North Jersey towns. The Assembly is deciding what to do about S-1, and we need your help.

The bill passed the Senate last week with the Democratic caucus closely divided between supporters and opposition/abstainers – and the Republicans nearly unanimously in support behind Gov. Christie’s charge to gut the state’s requirements that towns may not use their zoning to keep out low- and moderate-income people – and do so no later than June 30. We thank those who voted against the bill – Sen. Weinberg who released this excellent statement today, Sen. Rice, and Sen. Turner – and also Sen. Norcross who has spoken at length on the problems with S-1 and why he abstained.

Thursday, S-1 heads to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee. The question is whether the Assembly will roll over and pass a deeply flawed bill in order to meet Gov. Christie’s arbitrary deadline, or actually allow the public process that the Senate shut down – to a degree so extreme that NO public testimony was allowed on the bill the Senate voted on.

A wide range of groups – the NAACP, environmentalists, special needs housing providers, and housing advocates – proposed an alternative housing policy to replace COAH today. You can download an overview here. We had intended to present these ideas to the Senate and weren’t allowed to do so.

According to an article in the Asbury Park Press, Speaker Oliver is undecided about whether to post S-1 for a vote. We need your help to ask Assembly members to ask Speaker Oliver – and Housing Committee Chair Green and Vice-Chair Jasey – to not post S-1, and instead have an open public process to work on an alternative that actually meets the need for homes near jobs and transit instead of encouraging sprawl, recognizes differences between towns, treats all parts of the state fairly, and is constitutional.

Please e-mail me at adamgordon@fairsharehousing.org tomorrow if you are able to reach out to any members of the Assembly – thank you for your support!



PS Thank you Rosi for the help with making our diaries look better (i.e. HTML 101)!