“Now the court is micromanaging how many units you have to build in all these communities. That is ridiculous,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.
Bramnick led this Cranford town hall-style strategy session on stopping court-mandated high-density housing, a code phrase for affordable housing.
“Most people move to a community, they want the city council, the planning board, and local officials to make the decision what housing needs are for that community,” Bramnick said.
The fight over affordable housing in New Jersey has been a long one. When the Christie administration seemed to drag its feet on the issue, the courts took over and mandated how many affordable housing units towns must build. More than 200 towns have settled with advocates and developers, from Moorestown to Mahwah. Among them, Woodbridge, literally replacing public housing with private affordable units and giving low-income tenants first dibs.
“I hope all the redevelopers who are putting up luxury apartments throughout town don’t get mad at me, but you can’t tell the difference,” said Caroline Ehrlich, executive director of the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency.
But Cranford is among the 100 or so towns not settling. Bramnick and the top lawyer for Assembly Republicans spoke of more than a half dozen bills that would ease towns’ obligations and have them, instead of judges, make affordable housing decisions. One problem: Democrats control the Assembly and the Senate.
“The Democrats like the concept of moving high-density housing into municipalities. It’s as simple as that. Now, how do I know that? Because they won’t pass or let us vote on any of these bills that would change the law,” Bramnick said.
One man asked how to level the playing field in the Legislature. Bramnick explained the party that wins the most legislative seats redraws the district lines for the state Legislature and Congress every 10 years. To the victor goes the advantage of protecting, or creating, the most districts, better known as gerrymandering.
“If you had competitive districts all of this country, people would have to be in the middle. They’d have to listen to both sides. So now what you have is extremes running this country, and you have extremes in Trenton,” Bramnick said.
One Cranford resident suspected imposing affordable housing on wealthy towns has the ulterior motive of influencing election outcomes.
“It’s about changing the demographics of those communities and changing the vote, and that’s what it’s about,” said Chemda Mindy Kipness. “And that’s why you’ll never get partnership from the other side.”
Cranford has been home to Don Smith for 51 years. He realizes the odds the Republicans face in the Legislature and bemoaned, in the courts, developers eager to build win most of the time.
“And that means we’re going to get jammed right down our throat with stuff that we cannot take as an overdevelopment situation with schools, police, fire, EMS, public taxes, for crying out loud. They’re going to go out of sight,” Smith said.
Bramnick urged the opponents of court-mandated affordable housing to show up for a rally Sept. 20 outside the State House Annex because he advised there’s one thing lawmakers pay attention to: numbers.