Next week, the Legislature will return to Trenton to continue tackling many of the important issues facing New Jersey. Like my colleagues, I have no intention of resting on the laurels of our recent accomplishments of cutting state spending by record amounts and creating new law that will provide access to health care to every child in New Jersey.
Our long-term goal is to make life in New Jersey a little more affordable for hard-working middle-class families. In many ways, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labors. But no new law will have as profound an effect on our state than our recent overhaul of New Jersey’s affordable housing rules. With an economy and a housing market left in tatters due to the national economic slump, these changes will go a long way towards preserving the American dream of home ownership.
More than 30 years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that every town in New Jersey had an obligation to provide affordable housing options for all residents. However, many towns found ways to get around this mandate, some even going to so far as to literally pay their way out of having to provide affordable housing. As a result, New Jersey has become one of the nation’s most economically segregated states, with wealthy suburban enclaves existing a stone’s throw from abject urban poverty.
New Jersey’s disjointed housing policy effectively created invisible walls around towns that working-class and middle-class families would never be able to scale. Teachers have been unable to live in the same communities as the children in their classrooms and police and fire professionals cannot live in the towns they protect and serve.
This summer, with the stroke of his pen, Governor Corzine leveled the playing field for all New Jersey families to live where they want – not where the wealthy towns say they must. This bold new law does away with the practice of allowing towns to pay cities to absorb their affordable housing obligations. It also expands the ability for towns that had previously ignored their obligation to provide affordable housing at little or no cost to taxpayers, through new tools that give developers access to federal tax credits and bonuses to towns that take steps to meet their responsibility honestly.
The new law also will help a construction industry that has been struggling through the current recession. Until recently, towns could impose fees on commercial development that could increase the cost of a project by as much as 10 percent. Under the new law, those fees are set at 2.5 percent – a significant tax cut to one of our most important industries.
What is most engaging about these reforms is how they brought a wide cross-section of New Jersey together to support a common cause. Landlords, housing advocates, environmentalists, and business and industry leaders all came together to support this law because they realized it was the right thing to do for the state.
Much has been made in the news about affordable housing. Some politicians and towns have made misleading and incorrect statements about the new law in an attempt to return to the old way of thinking. But the needs of working families to have access to affordable homes near to the places they work, and for their children to have access to good schools and neighborhoods to grow up, far outpaces the need for a politician to have a sound-bite.
With this important issue – as with all issues facing New Jersey – my office looks forward to hearing ideas and concerns constituents throughout the 19th Legislative District. My district office is located at 276 Hobart Street in Perth Amboy, and can be contacted at (732) 324-5955 or via e-mail at AsmVas@njleg.org.