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Princeton Mayor Upset with Affordable Housing Changes

7-31-14

Since 1985, New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing has required that 20 percent of the units in mixed-income developments be set aside for low-income families. New rules would cut that requirement to 10 percent. The change would mean Princeton would have “zero obligation” to build affordable housing. Mayor Liz Lempert is furious about the change. She told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that affordable housing options will help residents in her community stay put.

“We really need the state’s help in order to keep Princeton a vibrant and diverse community, something that Princeton is really proud of. We have a history of affordable housing. We actually started our program back in the 1930s before there were any state requirements,” Lempert said. “But we really need the state’s help in order to hold builders accountable when they come into town.”

Although many think of wealth when they think of Princeton, Lempert said it is really a diverse community. “One of the issues we’ve been trying to tackle is that we’re seeing demographic shifts in our community that impact a lot of the history that we have. We have families that have been in town for generations, dating back … to before the Revolutionary War. And because of cost of living increases, they’re finding it increasingly hard to stay in town,” she said. “A lot of the demand for affordable housing is coming from our own residents.”

Lempert said Princeton currently has more than 1,700 families on a wait list for affordable housing options.

Some towns have been able to dodge their affordable housing obligations by paying for other municipalities’ affordable housing options. Lempert said that has led to issues since it creates concentrations of poverty in cities and makes some suburbs less diverse. She said Princeton never traded its obligations, which she’s proud of.

“It’s something that if you look just at our closest city, Trenton, you see the impacts of the concentrations of poverty and some of the problems that cause this,” she said.

Lempert attended a forum with Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson where she said they listened to residents. “I thought it was just a great example of civic participation. I felt incredibly energized after being there and seeing the turnout and listening to both the concerns and the ideas of the residents,” Lempert said. “And I think one of the great feelings of the forum was that you can’t pin all the solutions on the mayor. It has to be the community working together because the problems out there are large ones. You need everyone on board to help with that.”

Some would argue that a partnership between Princeton and Trenton would be unlikely, but Lempert disagrees with that sentiment. “I think that the history of both Princeton and Trenton are interconnected on a lot of levels. If you go back in history, it was Trenton and Princeton that delivered the one-two punch that changed the course of the Revolutionary War. There’s lots of ties between our communities. Lots of families have cousins and relatives in both towns,” she said. “And certainly having a healthy, vibrant Trenton is something that helps Princeton and helps the entire region.”