This Friday, August 2, marks an extremely important deadline for municipalities across New Jersey as they respond to letters sent by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). These letters request that municipalities provide documentation proving their commitment of municipal housing trust funds. Over 3,000 new homes for victims of Sandy, people with special needs, and working families remain in limbo as the Christie Administration continues to try to seize these funds.
COAH sent these letters following the New Jersey Appellate Division’s June 7 decision that the Christie Administration could not move forward on seizing trust funds without detailed scrutiny and broadened participation. The decision followed a dramatic three weeks in which the Appellate Division first halted the entire process after COAH had ordered that towns reply by May 22 in an attempt to seize the funds before the end of the 2013 budget year and the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld that order.
The new review process comes at a critical time in the state’s history, with an unprecedented demand for housing only 9 months after super storm Sandy. A significant amount of these funds-57 percent – were also already earmarked for towns in the nine counties hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.
In COAH’s letters, sent in late June, the agency notified municipalities they had 30 days to prove their funds were committed to building new housing developments or for other fair housing programs (despite COAH’s failure to define what “committed” means or approve plans needed to move forward). Because of our victory in the Appellate Division with our co-appellants the League of Municipalities and South Brunswick Township, COAH’s Executive Director then has to review the files town by town and provide further explanation of why it seeks to seize particular funds. Then municipalities and other interested parties will have another 15 days to address that initial determination. The COAH Board is then required to hold a meeting to review the Director’s decision. – Thus, under the new process, COAH is prohibited from seizing the funds until they meet collectively to reach a final decision. All municipalities or interested parties may appeal any decision to the court.
Over the past several years, municipalities have struggled to build new homes because of COAH’s failure to approve their projects or to provide any guidance on how to show their funds are committed. If seized, thousands of low – income and special needs families, many of which still remain homeless after Hurricane Sandy, will lose the opportunity to live in a safe and affordable home. Some examples of these developments include 148 affordable apartments serving Sandy victims in Middle Township, Cape May County; 120 homes for people with special needs in Edison, Middlesex County; and over 50 new Habitat for Humanity homes throughout Morris County.
With only two days left until the August 2 deadline, municipalities, affordable and special needs developers, and other affected parties are, in a rare alliance, united to show why the Christie Administration is wrong on this issue. Though the Appellate Division decision created a new process and cast serious doubt on this effort, Christie continues his never-ending war to stop the building of homes that low income people desperately need. It’s all part of a broader agenda to make New Jersey homes less affordable for lower-income families – including Christie’s attempt to abolish COAH, which the Supreme Court stopped in their recent July 10, 2013 decision. Click here for a copy of the decision. Us at Fair Share Housing Center and many other housing advocates, community groups and municipalities will continue to fight this overreach and monitor Christie’s continued attempt to take trust funds and keep Blue Jersey readers posted.