Tag Archive: Fair Share Housing Center

On Christie Budget Raid, DCA Testimony Raises More Questions than Answers

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new Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the country to rent a home, with an 18% increase in rents over the last five years. And we have more than 100,000 homes in the foreclosure process.

We have the ability and funding in place to start to make a dent in these problems. There is over $200 million in municipal trust fund money from fees on developers, dedicated to entry-level homes. And $75 million from the national foreclosure settlement.

But Chris Christie needs this money – to provide tax cuts for millionaires. Otherwise his budget isn’t balanced.

It’s murky how he plans to do this. Like the controversial energy receipts fund, the affordable housing trust funds are supposed to be administered by municipalities – not sucked in by the state. The Legislature in 2008 passed a law giving towns four years to “commit” the money. But Christie refuses to give a clear answer as to what “commit” means, leaving the League of Municipalities and towns to fear that DCA will unfairly take the funds, never to be seen again.

Yesterday morning’s testimony by DCA Acting Commissioner Richard Constable provided more questions than answers. Constable could not explain where the $200 million would go, saying that a lot of it would go outside of his department. Which is problematic, because that’s where most of the state’s housing programs are. He said the Administration would comply with the law restricting such funds for housing uses – but wouldn’t say how.

Similarly, he had no answers on where the $75 million for foreclosure funds would go, except apparently not to DCA.  

Dr. King, Gov. Christie, and Segregation

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It’s amazing to think that if Dr. King’s life had not come to a tragic end, he might have still been with us today. Yesterday would have been his 82nd birthday. No doubt he would not be silent.

Recently, I was talking with a pastor who marched with Dr. King. He told us that when he heard Gov. Christie’s rhetoric on local rights to ban certain people from their community, it sounded a lot like the states rights rhetoric of Southern politicians who resisted the Civil Rights Movement:

“I’ve always believed municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing, without being micromanaged and second-guessed from Trenton.”

– Chris Christie, on abolishing the independent Council on Affordable Housing and placing it under his direct control (which we at Fair Share Housing are currently challenging in court).

“Let the poll tax be repealed, if it should be, at the proper place. We have not yet come to the state of affairs in Georgia where we need the advice of those who would occupy the position of the carpetbagger and the scalawag of the days of Reconstruction to tell us how to handle our internal affairs.”

– Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, opposing federal legislation on voting rights.

New Report: Christie Making NJ Unaffordable for Middle Class

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A new Rowan University analysis of exclusionary zoning in New Jersey shows that, in the fastest growing areas of the state, municipalities have largely outlawed even middle-class housing in their zoning – while continuing to allow dense development of offices and shops.

Gov. Christie said last week that he has “always believed in allowing municipalities to make their own decisions about affordable housing,” in unilaterally proposing to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and transfer its powers to the Department of Community Affairs after failing to get the Legislature to go along with his plans to let wealthy towns institute discriminatory zoning.

This was part of a series of five “executive reorganization” orders that would transfer more power to Christie without independent oversight – also transferring power for business attraction and retention from the independent Economic Development Authority to Lt. Gov. Guadagno and abolishing the state’s Higher Education Commission and instead simply making its decisions carried out by the Department of Education. These transfers all represent a stretched legal interpretation of the Governor’s authority under a statute allowing limited reorganization within the Executive Branch.

The Rowan report shows the New Jersey Gov. Christie envisions.

A New Jersey in which, in Somerset County, there are 16 times as many jobs allowed as homes – and 87 percent of residentially zoned land only allows mansions on one acre or more of land.

More below the fold.  

New Jersey Supreme Court to Hear Housing Appeals

The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided to review the October 8, 2010 Appellate Division decision that invalidated the Council on Affordable Housing’s (COAH) flawed Third Round regulations.  The Court’s decision is in response to request filed by 13 municipalities and the New Jersey Leaque of Muncipalities that want the Court to relieve them of the obligation to provide zoning for starter homes for New Jersey’s working families.  The muncipalities have the support of the Christie Administration, which has called for allowing wealthy municipalities to build walls that exclude lower income New Jerseyans, seniors, and people with special needs.

In a brief filed with the Court, the Christie Administration supported policies that will allow towns to abuse their powers and exclude working people by prohibiting all housing from being built or only allowing large, expensive housing on large lots in the same towns where significant job growth is expected.

For over three decades, New Jersey towns have been required to allow homes for low-income working families, seniors and people with special needs and Fair Share Housing Center remains optimistic that the Supreme Court will again hold that municipal zoning may not be used to block the market for starter homes.  Zoning that allows for a fair share of affordable homes is right thing for our state and our economy.

Housing bill on the Governor’s desk

After a year-long debate on the future of starter homes for families, seniors, and people with special needs, the Legislature yesterday took the final action necessary to put S1/A3447 on the Governor’s desk for his signature, with an amended final bill passed by both houses.  The legislation has improved substantially since the earlier version of S1 June 2010, but still reduces the number of homes required in New Jersey by over 50 percent.

Under the final bill, municipalities are actually required to provide opportunities for housing that is affordable to low- and moderate-income families, based on a simple percentage of the total homes in the town.  Two key bad features in earlier bills have been removed:

• Municipalities can no longer meet all of their obligations by providing expensive housing for households earning up to 150% of median income.  

• Developers will actually be required to provide housing that is affordable rather than simply paying a small fee to avoid making a development inclusionary.  

In those ways, and many others, S1/A3447 is much better legislation than what was originally proposed by Sen. Lesniak as the replacement to the Council on Affordable Housing.  

The legislation reflects significant input from FSHC and many of our allies, including housing, planning, and civil rights organizations, a broad range of faith communities, special needs and supportive housing providers, and over 100 other groups that opposed the original S-1. With the help of many of you – including many of you on BlueJersey – we shaped the debate through preparing analyses, sharing information with the media, and helping mobilize our grassroots allies. Our many voices persuaded the Assembly – with the leadership of Housing and Local Government Committee Chair and Vice-Chair Green and Jasey, Speaker Oliver, and Majority Leader Cryan – to reject the Senate’s demand that its bad legislation pass by June 30, 2010.  We consider the progress an important accomplishment for the broad movement of New Jerseyans who oppose exclusionary land use practices – which according to a national study by the Brookings Institution are the most exclusionary in the country.

Unfortunately, as with the legislation that passed the Assembly late in 2010, the version that is now on the Governor’s desk falls far short of the number of homes needed to comply with the Mount Laurel doctrine.  As a result of amendments made yesterday, which reduce obligations largely in shore towns, we project that the S1/A3447 will require about 48,000 units of affordable housing to be provided over the next ten years – or an over 50 percent reduction from COAH’s Third Round numbers and a 13 percent reduction from the version that passed the Assembly just a month ago (you can see our complete town-by-town analysis here).

Yesterday’s legislative votes now puts the issue front and center with Governor Christie. While he considers whether to sign S1/A3447, he also faces a court deadline of March 8, 2010 for COAH to adopt revised Third Round regulations – a process that COAH has admitted in court filings it has not even begun.  If the Governor does not sign this bill, and COAH continues to delay, we will seek to have the courts take over the process. If we need to reach that last resort, we are optimistic that the judiciary will keep its promise from the Mount Laurel decisions that, while it does not build houses, it does enforce the constitution.  

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

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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 …

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

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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.

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.

Court stays Governor Christie’s COAH Executive Order

The Fair Share Housing Center tells us they just won a major court battle on COAH:

The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court today issued an order enjoining Gov. Chris Christie’s February 9 Executive Order that had placed an indefinite hold on the state’s housing policies.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green called for this to be an opportunity for the governor to work with the legislature:

Creating a workable affordable housing plan – especially in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the union – will take teamwork, compromise and the combined efforts of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

Well, it’s obvious that teamwork is not Christie’s Plan A, but perhaps this Court ruling will make him go to the legislature. Meanwhile, the court battle will continue.