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…