Ruling: Towns Responsible for Affordable Housing in Gap Period

By Erin Delmore

The New Jersey Supreme Court handed a win to affordable housing advocates today in a unanimous ruling, finding that municipalities have to make good on affordable housing needs incurred during a 16-year “gap period.”

“Up to 60 percent of the state’s affordable housing was at risk. Up to 100,000 families would never have gotten the chance to move into a safe neighborhood and send their kids to good schools and live close to their jobs,” said Anthony Campisi, spokesperson for the Fair Share Housing Center.

Today’s ruling overturns one made this summer by an appellate court. At issue, whether municipalities are responsible for making up for affordable housing needs during the period 1999 to 2015, when the Council on Affordable Housing just wasn’t effective.

“Trenton gridlock prevented the system from working properly. The Council on Affordable Housing was supposed to every 10 years develop a new set of rules to determine what housing obligations towns had going forward. Starting in 1999, they were just unable to come up with those regulations that could meet the requirements of the law and satisfy the constitution,” Campisi said.

The 2000s walloped New Jerseyans year after year, from the recession and foreclosure crisis to Sandy and the economic downturn in Atlantic City.

“Our fair housing laws just weren’t working to meet the desperate need that accumulated during that time,” Campisi said.

But some say municipalities have unfairly taken the brunt. Jeffrey Surenian, attorney for the municipalities, says it’s not true that need accumulated year after year.

“The Supreme Court said we know it’s not your fault municipalities, we’re not going to punish you for that. But we are being punished. We’re being put to enormous cost to sort out issues that are indeed best decided by a state agency with the ability to make these judgements and to make these value judgements,” he said.

While municipalities won’t be fulfilling their entire obligation this year — or even in the next decade — the Fair Share Housing Center says some projects are already in development. Others they say are pretty far along in the approval process and they’re hoping to see shovels in the ground in the spring.