TRENTON – The state Supreme Court ruled today that New Jersey must change its affordable housing rules to give each town a required number of homes it is responsible for including in its planning.
The court rejected the state’s latest regulations, which only required towns to include zoning for housing for lower-income residents if they actually had new development, in a 3-2 decision. The previous approach used by the state’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) from 1987 to 1999 projected the future need for affordable homes on a regional basis, and then allocated to each municipality in a region its fair share of the responsibility for making possible the development of such homes.
The court’s decision was not a popular one with some politicians.
Somerset County Republican state Sen. Kip Bateman said, “Today’s ruling reinforces the need for meaningful affordable housing reform that focuses on needs and results rather than ideology. Rather than simply now enforcing the state’s earlier, equally failed housing mandates, we need to take a sensible approach that works for all communities.”
Others took a different view.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling,” said Staci Berger, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Too many people in this state are living pay check to pay check, or just barely getting by. As a result of this decision, more of our hardworking residents, seniors and people with disabilities will have the opportunity to live in homes they can afford in communities of their choice. Creating affordable homes will help our economy and our residents thrive.”
“This decision will allow New Jersey municipalities to move ahead with the critical mission of planning for and ensuring the construction of needed affordable homes,” said Charles Latini, AICP/PP, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association.
“COAH’s failure to adopt constitutionally valid rules,” Latini added, “has made municipalities reluctant to participate in COAH’s programs and spend monies from their affordable housing trust funds.”
“Affordable housing and COAH decisions determine land use patterns in New Jersey for generations to come more than anything else,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who supported the court’s decision. ”People in New Jersey need affordable housing and we need to do it in a way that is responsible.”
The court gave Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration five months to change the regulations to be consistent with the state’s Fair Housing Act.
In 2011, Christie attempted to abolish New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing, but was thwarted by an earlier court ruling that said his actions were improper and the power to dissolve COAH belonged to the Legislature.
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