Lawsuit Over Affordable Housing Claims Lack of Transparency

By Michael Hill

Tom Toronto is passionate about affordable housing in New Jersey.

“This is housing meant to purpose-built meant to serve people with autism. We specialize in that style of construction and use,” he said.

Toronto is the Presdient of the United Way of Bergen County. He’s been paying close attention to the lawsuits the Fair Share Housing Center has filed against the Christie administration, Rutgers University and other state entities.

This recent suit claims members of the Council on Affordable Housing or COAH — which operates under the state Department of Community Affairs — voted for a set of rules for housing that impact hundreds of New Jersey towns and cities but then published a much different set of rules in the New Jersey Register.

“The state government should not be allowed to operate like it’s a private fiefdom or a secret operation that isn’t funded by our tax dollars and doesn’t belong to all of us. I think this is a very dangerous slippery slope, not just for fair housing but for everything about government in New Jersey,” said Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center.

Even one of the council members, Timothy Doherty, finds it unsettling, saying “I feel offended that I haven’t been told why or how or to what measure these rules have been changed.”

Advocates say if the rules that changed without explanation is allowed to stand it would mean the loss of 37,000 affordable housing units across the state of New Jersey.

“Our experience has been that municipalities, governing bodies, mayors and councils, are open to the idea of building affordable housing. What they need is some consistency and some clearly identified rules for the road. Those haven’t been readily available with all of the turbulence, if you will, that has surrounded COAH in the last couple of years, particularly. But, in the interim, what it does is creates a sense of paralysis, if you will, because no one wants to commit or start a project if the rules are going to change.,” Toronto said.

In another lawsuit, Fair Share Housing has sought records from the Christie adminstration showing how the state came up with the percentages of affordable housing New Jersey towns. In response to the suit, the state has said the numbers could not be located.

“Everybody deserves to know how the state came up with these numbers,” said Gordon.

The Department of Community Affairs calls Fair Share’s assertion knowingly false and says “there is no missing data; rather the data referred to has been a matter of public record for 10 years, since it was published in the New Jersey Register in 2004.”

Housing advocates across the state will be watching how these lawsuits play out because what’s on the line could impact so many towns and so many New Jerseyans in need of affordable housing.