COAH Meets for First Time in a Year

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

COAH, the Council on Affordable Housing, met for the first time in a year today, one day before a court-imposed deadline.

Gov. Chris Christie abolished the much-maligned agency in 2011, but the state Supreme Court reversed him and ordered COAH to issue new regulations by May 1, 2014.

That’s tomorrow, and the Christie administration says it’s complying.

“The administration has really taken this seriously and is now moving the process forward,” said Executive Director of NJ Housing and Mortgage Financing Agency Anthony Marchetti.

The state has been struggling with affordable housing mandates since the Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel rulings of 1975 and 1983.

Today COAH proposed new regulations to take effect in November.

Advocates for affordable housing were underwhelmed.

“It was alarming that it took a court decision for COAH to meet. And even today you meet here with only half your representation,” said Rev. Craig Hirshberg.

The vote was 5 to 1 for the new so-called Round Three regulations. The lone dissenter — a Corzine appointee.

“Round Two had a methodology that basically said there was a 20 percent set-aside for new affordable housing, and these rules promulgate a 10 percent,” said Tim Doherty.

The set-aside is the number of low-cost units a builder must provide in order to win approval to build market-rate units.

“Historically, for every affordable unit a developer builds, they get four market rate units to pay for it. Under these rules, for every affordable unit a builder builds, he gets nine. This is the biggest giveaway to development in state history,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey.

A Rutgers expert on the Mount Laurel doctrine testified that 62,000 affordable units in the state need rehabbing, 30,000 more need to be built over the next 10 years and 21,000 remain to be built under prior obligations.

A housing advocate said the new rules won’t produce that many units and that today’s meeting was only a partial success.

“On the one hand, it’s good because it shows the administration has some respect for the rule of law when a court tells them to do something. On the other hand, it’s problematic because all they did so plainly doesn’t comply with what the court required,” said Kevin Walsh, associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center.

“I’m afraid that watching the proceedings of the committee, that perhaps we are doing as little as possible,” Hirshberg said.

Also up in the air is $165 million in municipal affordable housing trust funds that the Christie administration tried to seize for the state. An appellate court blocked that. The money is in limbo for now.