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NJ Supreme Court Rules Officials Must Redo Method of Providing Affordable Housing

9-26-13

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

Thirty years into a complex struggle over affordable housing rules, the state Supreme Court today threw out the current methodology for determining a municipality’s obligation and gave the state five months to come up with a new one.

Affordable housing advocates hailed the ruling.

“The Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a tremendous victory for working families, people with special needs and people who have trouble affording New Jersey’s expensive housing market. It’s gonna result in more homes getting built,” said Kevin Walsh of the Fair Share Housing Center of New Jersey.

“We have hard working people out there. The problem is that there is no housing,” Mike McNeil of the NAACP Housing Center said.

“This is such a great decision for the working poor in the state,” said Frank Argote-Freyre of the Latino Action Network.

The rules are set by the Council on Affordable Housing and have gone through major changes over the years. Currently rules they allow a town to determine its own fair share of a region’s housing need based on the town’s growth. The court gives COAH five months to rewrite the rules again, take back some of the town’s autonomy and base its obligation more on regional need.

“The court gave a very clear timetable — five months. We want to get shovels in the ground, hammers swinging and people into the homes they need as soon as possible. We can’t wait any more, we don’t want to have this delayed any longer,” said Executive Director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey Staci Berger.

The case pitted Walsh of the Fair Share Housing Center against the Christie administration, the League of Municipalities and a dozen towns in Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

“This is an explicit rejection of the Christie administration’s policies on housing,” Walsh said.

The governor’s office said it would have no comment on today’s decision.

League of Municipalities President Janice Mironov said, “The old rules were flawed. The decision offers an opportunity to make them more reasonable.”

The 3-to-2 decision written by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia said, “The policy adopted by the legislature in the Fair Housing Act (of 1985) cannot be ignored or rewritten by COAH to the degree that COAH has done through its wholly new growth share methodology.”

The two Republican justices — Helen Hoens and Anne Patterson — dissented.

The advocacy groups were cheered.

“At last our long statewide nightmare is over. We have five months and we’ll see some action,” Berger said.

Gov. Chris Christie tried to shut down COAH and was blocked by the Supreme Court this year. In this ruling, the High Court is asking COAH to once again take the lead in setting municipal housing obligations.