POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Deadline Looms for Towns to Spend Affordable Housing Funds

The July 1 deadline is nearing for towns had to spend money allocated for affordable housing or risk having millions, nearly $160 million, returned to the state Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Affordable housing advocates like Staci Berger, Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, say that the governor is trying to reclaim millions of dollars in affordable housing funds in an effort to balance the budget. Berger told Managing Editor Mike Schneider she doesn’t buy the administration’s claim that the money would only be used for housing programs.

“If you look at the governor’s budget, it’s really a shell game because they take money from the housing trust fund to fund existing housing programs and take money out of the budget to fund other things like the 10 percent income tax cut the governor’s insisted on having.”

Towns have had four years to spend the money collected from developers who paid fees rather than build affordable housing units. Berger said the inaction by municipalities is due to a lack of guidelines by the Christie administration on the appropriate uses for the funds.

“Towns have been waiting for the governor to say ‘this is what we’re going to consider appropriate uses of those funds.’ The governor never did that. It’s like saying ‘we’re gonna tell you what the rules of the game are,’ never telling you what the rules of the game are and then saying ‘game over, I won.'”

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Berger said the housing funds would have a far-reaching impact beyond the increased availability of affordable homes and would affect the community as a whole.

“The money was collected locally and is supposed to be used to help create homes which would help create jobs in those communities, so opportunities for towns to partner with nonprofits and other developers to create rental homes and home ownership opportunities for families of all income levels.”

According to Berger, a two-year extension is appropriate. She said that many towns are already trying to spend the money even without clear state guidelines for fear of losing the funds.

Even though she is uncertain about what the governor will do, Berger is encouraged by the bipartisan support for the bill.

“We think that there are a lot of residents who have been in contact with their elected officials from both parties about keeping that money where it belongs. Morris County is expected to lose about $20 million which is really a hit to their economic future in that area. There are a lot of Republican legislators that understand that this is an economic investment that should not be lost to the budget.”

A Senate panel approved a bill to give towns more time to spend money to build affordable housing. The Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee is considering a parallel bill later this afternoon.