LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

NJ Supreme Court Takes Affordable Housing Control Away from COAH

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Key Democrats hailed the ruling.

“How else can they rule? We have failed policies,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green.

Republicans panned it.

“I was hopeful that with new justices being appointed to the Supreme Court that we may start seeing a different result,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana.

Since 1975 and the first Mount Laurel decision, New Jersey has been struggling over affordable housing.

Yesterday’s unanimous Supreme Court decision wrested control of the process away from COAH, the state Council on Affordable Housing, and put decision-making back in the hands of trial judges.

COAH is 15 years late in promulgating new guidelines.

Kevin Walsh of Fair Share Housing successfully argued the case.

“The court said enough is enough. We need to find another way forward that can’t be blocked by political forces,” Walsh said.

Gov. Chris Christie and many Republicans have railed against COAH and the High Court over this issue.

Christie’s office downplayed yesterday’s ruling, saying simply it was a “call to action.”

The Mount Laurel doctrine was meant to end exclusionary zoning in the suburbs.

Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Green says it’s a sad day when the court has to act because the governor and the Legislature can’t agree on a solution.

“When you talk about affordable units, you’re not talking about poor people. You’re talking about young people, seniors, being able to live in a house where they can afford to live in that house,” Green said. “I want to get away from ‘low income,’ away from making people feel we’re forcing poor people into their neighborhoods.”

In 1983, in Mount Laurel 2, the court started allowing a developer to sue a non-compliant town for the right to build four market-rate homes for every affordable unit he provides.

Republicans like Rumana say that has only encouraged sprawl and hasn’t helped many people.

“What it has been is a boon to every developer, every high-density developer in New Jersey. They get to build thousands and thousands of units that are sold at market rate prices and then there’s a fraction for low and moderate income housing needs,” Rumana said.

“It’s the fight that never ends — housing advocates, builders, towns and state officials wrangling over where and how to create affordable housing. Once again the Supreme Court has found it necessary to step in, try to jump-start the process and challenge the other two branches of government to unsnarl the knot.

Related: Former Community Affairs Commissioner: Not Surprised By COAH Ruling