Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to reclaim some of the unused money set aside for affordable housing were somewhat thwarted by a decision Friday when an appellate court ruled that towns have the right to appeal that decision. Director of Policy and Advocacy at Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey Staci Berger spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about affordable housing in the state and what’s next in the process.
Berger said the court ruling requires the Department of Community Affairs to explain to municipalities why they were losing the money accumulated since 2008 and give them the opportunity to appeal the decision.
She said it’s too soon to tell if the ruling will delay efforts to create affordable housing options throughout the state. “We do know towns have been working very tenaciously to spend the money that they were at risk of losing,” she explained. “So in some cases the deadline did do what it was intended to do and that was to spur development in the communities where there needed to be more opportunities for homes and jobs.”
Berger said municipalities have already spent about $40 million of the $200 million Christie put in the state budget for affordable housing. “We think towns have been working properly to spend that money up until the deadline and potentially beyond because the court order does allow them to show the administration through the Council on Affordable Housing that they intend to spend that money in a way that is appropriate,” she said.
While Berger said some of the leftover funds could be because of the economic downturn and its effect on development in general, she believes there are other factors as well. “There were towns that were not sure what the rules of the game were and they didn’t want to take that chance that they were going to spend and commit money without knowing what the governor’s office meant by commit money,” she said. “I think there were also some towns that have said, ‘We don’t intend to build homes for low to moderate income families and we’re not going to spend that money and we’re going to hope that the governor takes it.’”
The need for affordable housing in New Jersey is well documented, according to Berger. “What we don’t have is clear guidance yet from the administration or from the courts about what communities need to do to meet those obligations,” she said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty but what we do know is that towns have some expectation to build those homes and that they need to use those dollars as quickly as possible.”
Turning foreclosures into affordable housing would benefit everyone, Berger said. “It would take vacant properties off the market and put them into the tax rolls,” she said. “So we would have places for people to live, for people who need those places. That’s a win-win for everybody.”