TRENTON – On Monday, the state Senate Economic Growth Committee unanimously approved a controversial bill that would scrap the state Council on Affordable Housing and replace it with a market-driven approach to meeting the demand for affordable housing. The measure is expected to go before the full state Senate for a vote on March 22.
The bill, S-1, is strongly opposed by both affordable housing advocates and environmentalists. Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a co-sponsor of the bill, says that it will create more affordable housing units with less bureaucracy.
Last week, James E. Harris, president of the New Jersey Conference of the NAACP, filed a formal ethics complaint alleging that the senator was “violating the public trust” by advancing legislation that would benefit municipalities that are clients of his law firm.
About half of the state’s municipalities would be exempt from affordable housing requirements under Lesniak’s bill, and when an affordable housing project was built, only half of the units would need to be priced for low-income people – the other half would be for moderate-income people.
The committee limited testimony on the bill before the vote, even though new amendments had been made since previous hearings.
“The sense is that anybody who’s opposing their bill isn’t welcome to testify,” said Kevin Walsh, associate director of the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center. “They took endless testimony (in previous hearings) from mayors and anyone who is supporting it.”
The president of the Camden chapter of the NAACP, Colandus “Kelly” Francis, said that the bill was “poorly thought out” and will “further promote segregation and concentrate poverty in the cities of our state.”
“Senator Lesniak’s proposal, S.1, seeks to abolish one of the most successful housing systems in the country,” said Staci Berger, the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey’s director of policy and advocacy. “The bill will also permanently end the commercial developer fee that communities have depended on to help solve the housing problems developers have mostly refused to address. It just seems ineffective to end this fee while the state is struggling to balance its budget, and considering significant cuts to public services.”
Adam Gordon, Fair Share Housing Center’s counsel, said, “Providing jobs without opportunities for nearby homes creates headaches for businesses and congestion on the highways. Senator Lesniak’s giveaways to office park developers will foster a job imbalance in New Jersey and drive both our jobs and workers to other states.”
Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director, said the bill will encourage sprawl and overdevelopment and put natural resources at risk.
“In the name of reform, this bill could actually make matters worse,” Tittel said. “The Sierra Club is opposed to this bill because it lacks environmental oversight and does not include the necessary scrutiny that should be required for affordable housing development projects. We’re putting a bulls-eye on more than half of New Jersey’s municipalities, where builders remedy suits determine how towns deal with affordable housing. This legislation may end up being worse than the current situation.”