Former Community Affairs Commissioner: Not Surprised By COAH Ruling

A new chapter in a 40-year long fight over affordable housing starts now. The state Supreme Court has called the Council on Affordable Housing “moribund” and “non-functioning” and wrested control of the process from the Christie administration, asserting the courts will handle it now. Former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Lori Grifa told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that she wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision.

Gov. Chris Christie tried to disband COAH in 2010, saying the state should get out of the business of telling people how many units of affordable housing they should have.

“Well in 2010, most of the governor’s focus was actually trying to work through a piece of legislation that was introduced before he was even inaugurated,” said Grifa. “I think what you’re referring to is some of the statements he might have said when he was campaigning. Certainly the governor had no love for COAH, but frankly neither did anybody else.”

Grifa said that 2010 was dedicated to trying to work with the Legislature to fix COAH but that it didn’t happen. She also said that in 2011 there were some efforts to use an administrative opportunity to disband COAH, but the court struck that down.

Grifa said that she wasn’t surprised by the most recent COAH ruling.

“I mean these rules have been under attack for almost 10 years. These rules were initially proposed by the McGreevey administration and I’ve lost count of how many battles have been fought in the court,” she said. “The state has lost almost all of them and that of course predates Gov. Christie and now we are in a position where the court has stripped the state of responsibility of enforcing the Fair Housing Act and placed it solidly within the court.”

Grifa has been quoted as saying, “This decision was very measured and apolitical when an administrative body is not functioning, people need to have an outlet and that outlet will be the court.” According to Grifa, she said that the law was passed more than 25 years ago, which created an alternative to going to court.

“Back in the 80s after the Mount Laurel ruling first came out, many towns, builders and advocates were in the courthouse and there was quite a logjam. It was expensive, it was uncertain and it was really not working,” Grifa said.

She said that COAH was supposed to be the solution and that over time it has become as bureaucratic, if not more bureaucratic than the courts had been. She also said that it had ended up failing all the people it was supposed to serve.

On whether more court fights will result as a consequence to the ruling, Grifa said, “The court’s decision yesterday has essentially set this up so that the parties will have to return to the courthouse to have at least a review of what the towns have been doing in the last few years.”

Grifa also said that she does not know whether or not there will be more disputes and court fights but that there will be a lot of judicial activity this summer.

Grifa said that she is supportive of a system that works. During her time as commissioner and in charge of COAH, Grifa said that her hope was to have made the system better.

“I would ask you to reflect back to 2009 when there was a very heated court battle,” Grifa said. “There was something like 22 or 24 parties suing the state of New Jersey for all of the flaws of COAH. When everybody is against the state, the state must be doing something wrong, don’t you think?”

Related: NJ Supreme Court Takes Affordable Housing Control Away from COAH