Author Archive: Fair Share Housing

Over 100 groups ask Senate to oppose S-1 tomorrow

Promoted by Rosi Efthim

Over the past few weeks, more and more groups have realized that something is deeply wrong with S-1, the proposed radical overhaul of New Jersey’s housing policies that the Senate is schedule to vote on tomorrow.

You don’t usually see every Catholic bishop in the state and many other key religious leaders, Habitat for Humanity, the NAACP, the Builders Association, the state’s major environmental groups, the Mental Health Association, older suburban mayors, the Association for Children of New Jersey, many of the state’s major unions, and the special needs community on the same side of an issue.

Indeed, you don’t usually see all of these groups even interested in the same issue.

But this bill is really messed up. Not only will it result in practically no new housing, it also threatens to wreak havoc on land use in the state, randomly punish some communities (like Pennsauken, Union Township, and Ewing) and reward others (like Summit, Far Hills, and Evesham), and launch years of litigation – even the Legislature’s own lawyers say courts are likely to find it unconstitutional. It goes beyond bad housing policy to bad policy in general: it will revoke approvals for $6 billion in development of much-needed homes, while allowing builders to go in and get new approvals for homes in environmentally sensitive areas (but in such a convoluted way that the homebuilders actually OPPOSE the bill).

And the process for this bill has made a mockery of democracy – with the Senate Economic Growth Committee moving the bill last week without making public what it was voting on, and shutting down all public testimony. The Senate also has to date ignored its own lawyers telling them that the bill is unconstitutional.

If you care about the future of our state’s communities, economy, and environment, you should urge your Senator to vote NO tomorrow.

Don’t just take it from us – learn more and listen to what Bishops, mayors, Habitat for Humanity, environmentalists, and more have said after the jump…

Lesniak Bars Public from Speaking, Seeing Amendments

As the Star Ledger reports, http://www.nj.com/news/index.s… Sen. Lesniak today did not allow people who had gathered from all over New Jersey to testify on his controversial housing bill, S-1 – or even to see the amendments the committee was voting on.

After the hearing opened, a committee staffer read a vague overview of a long list of amendments. Sen. Lesniak then told an assembled crowd with a wide range of views and all corners of the state, including everyone from mayors to environmentalists to developers to housing advocates to DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa, that he would not be taking testimony on the bill.  He then quickly moved the bill to a vote. The amendments are still not publicly available four hours after the vote.

Ray Lesniak apparently is so scared of what would come to light through the democratic process that he does not even want the public to see what is in S-1 now, let alone be able to talk about it.

Either that or he is trying to build a bipartisan consensus around an authoritarian “style.”

Lesniak Attempts to Bail Out Development While Gutting State’s Housing Policy

Promoted by Rosi Efthim

At the same time Sen. Raymond Lesniak proposes stopping starter homes from being built around the state through his S-1 bill, he is also attempting to redirect $20 million from the state’s housing trust fund. The state funds would bail out a risky deal by a private developer involving the renovation of apartments down the street from the Senator’s home in Elizabeth.

The Senate Economic Growth Committee is considering Lesniak’s latest version of S-1 today. While in his own backyard, Senator Lesniak wants the state to provide a $20 million bail out to a private housing development, in the rest of the state, he is pushing to cut $20 million in annual funding for urban areas everywhere else through S-1. Along with eliminating the urban funding, S-1 would also allow exclusionary municipalities to put up new barriers to building modest homes, barriers that the Office of Legislative Services concluded would likely be thrown out by the courts. Such policies would hurt cities and first ring suburbs throughout the state, places that S-1 asks to do more than their fair share while simultaneously reducing funds available.

In January 2009, the Union County Freeholders authorized $20 million in bonds to renovate the apartments. The proceeds of the bond went to a private developer, Community Investment Strategies (CIS). The deal was structured so that if CIS didn’t pay the funds back, Union County and Elizabeth taxpayers would be required to pay back the funds to the bondholders, which enabled the bond to win a favorable rating from Wall Street ratings agencies based on “the county guarantee to levy ad valorem taxes to assure timely debt service payments.”

In March 2010, CIS lost a statewide competition for financing through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Shortly after, Sen. Lesniak introduced a bill, S-1889, that would transfer $20 million in payments of $5 million a year for each of the next four years from the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to renovations of the Oakwood Plaza Apartments down the street from Lesniak’s Elizabeth home. The bill passed the Senate Economic Growth Committee, which Lesniak chairs, on May 13 and now awaits action on the floor of the Senate and in the Assembly.

New Jersey needs a strong housing policy fair to all towns that actually produces homes – not an approach based on whether you have connections to a powerful legislator who can find a way to earmark money.

Lesniak Amendments Take Aim at NJ’s Older Suburbs and Cities

Promoted by Rosi Efthim

Senator Ray Lesniak has introduced yet more amendments to his much-criticized housing bill, S-1, in anticipation of a committee vote on Thursday in the Senate Economic Growth Committee.  Legislation is normally amended to create a consensus, but each amendment that Lesniak introduces appears to alienate another group. The Lesniak bill would exempt many wealthy municipalities from further housing requirements while demanding that many of New Jersey’s older suburbs, which are usually among the more affordable municipalities in a region, provide additional affordable housing.  S-1 would also do away with funding for central cities to rehabilitate their existing housing stock.

S-1 continues to be legislation that is in search of a policy, as the Asbury Park Press noted in a critical editorial yesterday calling the S-1 process a “runaway train.”  His philosophy appears to be “we need to do something, here’s something, so let’s do it” – even though his bill creates an entire new set of problems, including being unconstitutional, and more sensible and constitutional proposals exist.  His most recent amendments should draw the ire of legislators whose districts include municipalities that have done their fair share and yet are being asked to do more while wealthy towns are being given a free pass.

We have long suspected that the Lesniak bill is intended simply to reduce the housing obligations of the wealthiest New Jersey municipalities.  The current version of the bill leaves no question that that is happening.  There should be no doubt that Senator Lesniak is working to push housing obligations on towns that already are racially and economically diverse while exempting many municipalities that have done the least.

A consistent flaw in the many versions of S-1 introduced by Sen. Lesniak is that  expensive condominiums are counted as affordable housing.  S-1 deems 261 of New Jersey’s municipalities as “inclusionary” – including municipalities such as Far Hills, Holmdel, Peapack and Gladstone, and Summit – because they include townhouses for the wealthy.  

In contrast, many more racially and economically diverse municipalities – such as Maplewood, Pennsauken, South Orange, and Union Township – don’t meet the “inclusionary” standard. Those municipalities can be forced to rezone property while wealthier municipalities that have the least affordable housing can sit back and do nothing.  That is hardly fair.

Lesniak’s bill also reduces the funding available for urban rehabilitation by permanently defunding the state Urban Housing Assistance Program established just two years ago under the leadership of Speaker Joe Roberts and with the support of Senator Lesniak and the non-residential developers.  One would think that Sen. Lesniak would have a hard enough time asking urban legislators to support a bill that lets wealthy suburbs off the hook.  Could he possibly get away with letting wealthy towns off the hook while simultaneously eliminating funding that was intended to fund urban rehabilitation?  

S-1 has few supporters.  Builders don’t support it because it increases home rule and insulates too many municipalities from reasonable development proposals.  Housing advocates, including 80 providers of special needs housing, don’t like it because it will result in little to no affordable housing.  Smart growth advocates don’t like it because it does not link housing with jobs and transit.  Environmentalists don’t like it because it does not channel growth into the right places.  With the current version of S-1, Senator Lesniak alienated mayors who have done their fair share, urban mayors whose housing stock is crumbling, and legislators who care about those mayors’ towns.  All of which makes us wonder, who supports S-1?

Lesniak Amendments Take Aim at NJ’s Older Suburbs and Cities

Senator Ray Lesniak has introduced yet more amendments to his much-criticized housing bill, S-1, in anticipation of a committee vote on Thursday in the Senate Economic Growth Committee.  Legislation is normally amended to create a consensus, but each amendment that Lesniak introduces appears to alienate another group. The Lesniak bill would exempt many wealthy municipalities from further housing requirements while demanding that many of New Jersey’s older suburbs, which are usually among the more affordable municipalities in a region, provide additional affordable housing.  S-1 would also do away with funding for central cities to rehabilitate their existing housing stock.

S-1 continues to be legislation that is in search of a policy, as the Asbury Park Press noted in a critical editorial yesterday calling the S-1 process a “runaway train.” http://www.app.com/article/201… His philosophy appears to be “we need to do something, here’s something, so let’s do it” – even though his bill creates an entire new set of problems, including being unconstitutional, and more sensible and constitutional proposals exist.  His most recent amendments should draw the ire of legislators whose districts include municipalities that have done their fair share and yet are being asked to do more while wealthy towns are being given a free pass.

We have long suspected that the Lesniak bill is intended simply to reduce the housing obligations of the wealthiest New Jersey municipalities.  The current version of the bill leaves no question that that is happening.  There should be no doubt that Senator Lesniak is working to push housing obligations on towns that already are racially and economically diverse while exempting many municipalities that have done the least.

A consistent flaw in the many versions of S-1 introduced by Sen. Lesniak is that  expensive condominiums are counted as affordable housing.  S-1 deems 261 of New Jersey’s municipalities as “inclusionary” – including municipalities such as Far Hills, Holmdel, Peapack and Gladstone, and Summit – because they include townhouses for the wealthy.  

In contrast, many more racially and economically diverse municipalities – such as Maplewood, Pennsauken, South Orange, and Union Township – don’t meet the “inclusionary” standard. Those municipalities can be forced to rezone property while wealthier municipalities that have the least affordable housing can sit back and do nothing.  That is hardly fair.

Lesniak’s bill also reduces the funding available for urban rehabilitation by permanently defunding the state Urban Housing Assistance Program established just two years ago under the leadership of Speaker Joe Roberts and with the support of Senator Lesniak and the non-residential developers.  One would think that Sen. Lesniak would have a hard enough time asking urban legislators to support a bill that lets wealthy suburbs off the hook.  Could he possibly get away with letting wealthy towns off the hook while simultaneously eliminating funding that was intended to fund urban rehabilitation?  

S-1 has few supporters.  Builders don’t support it because it increases home rule and insulates too many municipalities from reasonable development proposals.  Housing advocates, including 80 providers of special needs housing, don’t like it because it will result in little to no affordable housing.  Smart growth advocates don’t like it because it does not link housing with jobs and transit.  Environmentalists don’t like it because it does not channel growth into the right places.  With the current version of S-1, Senator Lesniak alienated mayors who have done their fair share, urban mayors whose housing stock is crumbling, and legislators who care about those mayors’ towns.  All of which makes us wonder, who supports S-1?

Official OLS analysis: Lesniak housing bill constitutionally deficient

Promoted by Jason Springer

A Office of Legislative Services (OLS) analysis has found that Sen. Lesniak’s much-criticized housing bill, S-1, would likely be found by courts to be unconstitutional.

OLS is the Legislature’s official, non-partisan advisory agency.

“The absence of a nexus between the mandatory inclusionary zoning proposed by the bill and satisfaction of regional and Statewide affordable housing needs would permit a challenge to the sufficiency of the bill under the Mount Laurel doctrine,” the OLS letter states.

In plain language, that means that the bill would not actually meet New Jersey’s need for homes affordable to a wide range of people.

The letter says the bill “may be susceptible to a constitutional challenge” based on “the constitutional requirement that the exercise of a municipality’s land use regulations promotes the general welfare.”

In plain language, that means that Sen. Lesniak’s bill would give wealthy towns the right to exclude and set land use regulations to favor special interests, not the general good of the state.

The OLS letter raises the specter of years of costly litigation for both municipalities and the state government with unpredictable results. That litigation could impede New Jersey’s economic recovery, as over $6 billion in planned construction of starter homes, homes for people with special needs, and apartments could be delayed. Sen. Lesniak is essentially saying, by continuing to push this bill, that municipalities having the right to exclude is more important than creating new homes and jobs.

The OLS letter also contradicts Senator Lesniak’s promise at a February Senate Economic Growth Committee hearing that S-1 would be constitutional.

The OLS analysis came out before Sen. Lesniak’s latest changes, which replace all housing obligations with $10,000 grants for home improvements, raising further constitutional issues. While the constitution requires addressing municipalities’ exclusionary practices regarding both improvements to existing homes and creation of new homes, S-1’s latest version only requires addressing the home improvement part. To our knowledge, OLS has not yet analyzed this new provision.

Sen. Lesniak has made it clear that he intends to press ahead with a committee hearing next Thursday June 3 and a Senate vote on Thursday June 10 on this flawed, unconstitutional plan. His logic appears to be that the state needs to do something about housing, and here’s something, so let’s do it — even though many other groups, ours included, have put out alternative, constitutional plans for state housing policy.

We hope other Senators will recognize that Sen. Lesniak’s path on S-1 is one sure to lead to lawsuits and further frustration. What we need instead is an effective housing policy that helps our economy, rewards the towns that have done their fair share, and stops exclusion by towns that have not.

You can read the OLS letter here: http://sites.google.com/a/fair…

Lesniak’s Dubious “Home Improvement” Bill Sent Back to Committee

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi Efthim

In an unexpected victory for the democratic process, the Senate yesterday chose to send Senator Lesniak’s S-1 bill back to the Senate Economic Growth Committee instead of moving forward with amendments he had proposed. As discussed in our post yesterday, the amendments would have eliminated all municipalities’ housing obligations and replaced them with a $10,000 home improvement grant program. Many groups had criticized the amendments, released only hours before the vote without any chance for public comment, as ill-conceived and unconstitutional.

Kudos to Senate leadership for not moving forward with Sen. Lesniak’s impractical proposal, his sixth different version of S-1 in the past three months. The bill would have done nothing to address demand for much-needed new apartments, starter homes, and special needs housing and imperiled over $6 billion in developments by everyone from Habitat for Humanity to large developers seeking to build new apartments near train stations already in the pipeline.

The next question is whether there will be full and fair hearings in committee on any further changes to S-1 that Sen. Lesniak might propose. We hope Sen. Lesniak will not to repeat the mistakes of past sessions in which us, the NAACP, and other groups critical of S-1 were denied the right to speak, and instead allow all views to be heard.

A committee hearing date has not been set. We’ll provide updates as they become available.  

Lesniak Proposes Replacing State’s Housing Policy with $10k Home Improvement Grants

Promoted by Jason Springer: This is up for a vote today

Ray Lesniak today is proposing amendments on the Senate floor for a new one size fits all solution for New Jersey’s housing problems.

Are you a young receptionist just starting out who needs an apartment near your job?

Ray Lesniak will give you a $10,000 home improvement grant.

Are you a person with cerebral palsy who needs accessible housing with supportive services?

Ray Lesniak will give you a $10,000 home improvement grant.

Are you a senior who can’t afford to stay in your existing house and needs to downsize to a more affordable apartment?

Ray Lesniak will give you a $10,000 home improvement grant.

OK, so none of the hypothetical people in these examples would actually be helped by a $10,000 home improvement grant. But Ray Lesniak’s New Jersey doesn’t include young people who need an apartment, people with special needs, or struggling seniors, so it’s ok.

By the way, would you like a $10,000 home improvement grant?

OK, OK, we’ll stop trying to change the subject. But here’s the details. Sen. Lesniak is proposing yet another round of amendments to his ever changing housing legislation, S-1, on the floor of the Senate today. As has been Sen. Lesniak’s game all along, the amendments have been written in a closed-door process and only available hours before (and at times hours after) the vote. The amendments include a few good things that Sen. Lesniak will no doubt tout as responding to the concerns of progressives – such as jettisoning RCAs, which Speaker Roberts had fought for years to eliminate and Gov. Christie, and up until today Sen. Lesniak, have been fighting to bring back.

But all of that doesn’t mean very much, because of the new little clause tucked into section 20, which says that developers and municipalities can meet ALL of their obligations through – you guessed it – $10,000 home improvement grants.

So a developer building 100 new homes would have an obligation to give 10 people $10,000 home improvement grants – and nothing more.

The result if this bill passed: 40,000 new homes for low- and moderate-income families, seniors, and people with special needs already in the pipeline would be wiped out, and hundreds of millions of dollars already invested by non-profit and for-profit developers lost. Not exactly a smart move in the middle of an economic crisis.

We’re hoping that the Senate will wise up to this proposal which would utterly fail to meet the need in New Jersey for homes near jobs and transit, and postpone a vote so it can be discussed more carefully.

Because a $10,000 home improvement grant just doesn’t cut it for hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey.

Christie Wants RCAs Back: Would Undo Signature Roberts Accomplishment

This is as close to ‘required reading’ as you’re going to see all day, I think – – promoted by Rosi Efthim

He wouldn’t own up to it in his Thursday press conference on housing policy.  But there it was in the details that, in keeping with Christie tradition, were not even available until a few hours after the announcement. Gov. Christie wants to bring Regional Contribution Agreements (RCAs) – the much-hated payments by wealthy towns to poor cities to take their affordable housing obligations that Speaker Joe Roberts and a diverse range of groups fought for four years to ban – back. In fact, Gov. Christie wants to increase their use to the point that wealthy towns could get out of their entire housing obligation.

In a landmark 2004 speech, then-Majority Leader Roberts called RCAs “repulsive,” “exploitative,” and “odious.” He later began using the term “blood money” to describe how wealthy towns could pay to keep New Jersey racially and economically segregated (we are the most economically segregated, and fifth most racially segregated, state in America). Others compared them to the Civil War practice of wealthy people paying others to stand in for them in the war.

Roberts spent the next four years working with groups like the Housing and Community Development Network and the New Jersey Regional Coalition and leaders like Bishop Joseph Galante of the Camden Diocese to build strong alliances, resulting in a powerful coalition. By 2008, his allies included the building trades, Fair Share Housing Center, NAACP, New Jersey Catholic Conference and many other faith based groups, New Jersey Future, New Jersey Regional Coalition, PlanSmart NJ, Sierra Club and other environmental groups, plus practically all major New Jersey business community groups including the Builders Association, NAIOP, and Building and Industry Association. These groups supported A500, Roberts’ historic bill that did away with RCAs and made many other changes to New Jersey’s housing policy. David Rusk, a national urban expert who worked closely with the New Jersey Regional Coalition on the bill, called the legislation the most significant state housing policy in the country in several decades.

Gov. Corzine signed A500 in July 2008 in front of 500 people at a historic location: Ethel R. Lawrence Homes, which resulted from the original lawsuit against Mount Laurel Township. Among many other speakers, Doreen Braz, who lives there, talked about the impact on her family from having the opportunity to move to Mount Laurel instead of being forced to stay in one of the communities where RCAs went. Speaker Roberts, in a recent forum at Rider University, named the elimination of RCAs as one of his three biggest legislative accomplishments.

With the ink barely dry on those changes, now Gov. Christie wants to bring RCAs back – and more than that, he wants to make them basically the entirety of the state’s housing policy. The Governor at his press conference claimed he was proposing a 10% set-aside for affordable housing in new development, but the fine print allows RCAs as an alternative that developers would make money by choosing. The proposal says that developers can pay a 2.5% fee instead of the 10% set aside, and further states that “[m]unicipalities may use funds in their affordable housing trust funds to underwrite rehabilitation projects in other municipalities which have significant rehabilitation needs but limited resources.” In other words, 100% of a municipality’s obligation can be moved out of town through an RCA – while in the past only 50% could, and now, thanks to the efforts of Speaker Roberts and many others, none can.

From a financial standpoint, paying the fee is a no-brainer for the builders.  Developers will make far more money by paying the fee instead of developing affordable housing on-site.  And many of the towns where there is the most job growth and need for more homes will send that money elsewhere, as the long and sorry history of RCAs, banned by the Legislature just two years ago, shows.  Indeed, high job growth municipalities like Cranbury, Wayne, and Evesham long used RCAs to keep out the people who work in their towns, people with special needs, and seniors, in the chase for ratables and at the expense of a sensible land use policy.  Allowing those municipalities to use RCAs for all of their obligation would make matters even worse.

Governor Christie has demanded action on his plan by June 30, hoping to rush the plan through (for which there is not even a proposed bill at this point). Sen. Lesniak and Sen. Bateman similarly want to bring back RCAs, through a similar “payment in lieu” process in their pending S-1 bill. The question is whether the Democratic leadership will ignore what Speaker Roberts fought so hard for for so many years, with so many behind him, and instead promote a plan that increases our state’s racial and economic segregation without producing homes near jobs and transit.