Changing the way New Jersey provides affordable housing

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi has introduced a six-point plan to fix New Jersey’s affordable housing crisis. Currently, a non-profit is enforcing its own calculations by taking communities to court, even though the organization has admitted its numbers are a lie. Extortion by a third party is not the way to provide affordable housing.

The plan is simple: Relieve municipalities of their burden by authorizing the state Council on Affordable Housing to calculate and enforce housing based on reasonable standards. No more litigation that wastes millions of dollars to fight, and no longer will unreasonable obligations be placed on municipalities that can’t afford it. The current method only increases property taxes and stress on local officials to abide by court-mandated and unfunded housing quotas that cannot be sustained.

This plan was designed to provide affordable housing while bringing relief to communities across the state.

1: Shift the obligation from municipalities to the state.

Shifting the obligations from per municipality to the state will set uniform rules for affordable housing and create predictability. Towns will be aware of how affordable housing is calculated and be able to work with the state to best provide or better resist over-development. Further, the streamlined process will lower costs because it will not be piecemeal throughout the state, with different judges applying different rulings for similar lawsuits. And lawsuits will be reduced in the process because of clarity.

Requiring the COAH to assume municipal affordable housing obligations to be reasonably apportioned throughout the state will make building affordable housing more affordable.

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2: Eliminate the builder’s remedy.

This is the legal action brought by developers to force massive residential development because a tiny portion includes affordable housing. It puts the builder’s interest over the public welfare by substantially increasing school related costs, requiring infrastructure improvements – such as water and sewer facilities and roadways, and generally promotes sprawl. Simply put, it quadruples housing and costs millions – maybe billions.

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3: Determine available redevelopment areas.

The bill would change the calculation to include foreclosed and vacant properties, exclude new housing starts over the gap period or prior round rules, and be limited to less than 5 percent of current state housing. It also eliminates rules requiring one-tenth of housing units be affordable and one unit be built per 30 jobs created.

To better assess true affordable housing needs in New Jersey, COAH is required to submit a report every 5 years. The report would calculate the ratio of the median cost to maintain a home if one earns the state median income – including property taxes, mortgage rates and payments, homeowners insurance, cost of utilities and other factors of owning a home. This report can be used with the growth-share calculation to determine actual need, and could potentially find other ways to lower costs.

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4: Ensure municipal zoning sovereignty.

Municipalities need a defense against unfunded housing mandates, and strengthening local authority can provide that. The defense is primarily against additional development, excluding redevelopment of existing properties. Consistent with the court, clarifying the prohibition on exclusionary zoning should also be included.

Municipalities will also be given the right to reject any developments that would increase housing stock by more than five percent in a 10-year period.

Towns spend hundreds-of-thousand dollars, if not millions, that they don’t have to comply with these obligations and defend themselves against builder’s remedy lawsuits. By relieving municipalities of obligations and lawsuits, mayors and councils will have less cause to raise property taxes on already overburdened residents – which only exacerbates the myth of affordable housing needs.

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5: Determine if towns can afford new housing.

The COAH, and the courts, will be directed to give primary consideration to a municipality’s current population size; infrastructure, water and sewer capacities; school class sizes and school services; impact of municipal services such as volunteer and staffed ambulatory services and fire departments, police departments, public transportation and traffic.

This way, no town will be overburdened to provide affordable housing it can’t afford.

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6: Eliminate exclusions for urban aid municipalities.

New Jersey regulations specifically try to avoid more low-income residents from inhabiting already low-income areas.

These areas are often best suited for redevelopment and more affordable housing due to the large area sizes and millions received in state aid to fund those projects. 45 municipalities were exempted from affordable housing obligations under prior rules. Rather, those needs were re-allocated to municipalities that were less suited for the additional housing, raising property taxes and causing unaffordable spending in an attempt to comply with unfunded mandates and lawsuits.

For example, Newark was spared an obligation, increasing housing obligations in Bergen and Passaic counties amongst others in the New York area – already the most densely populated in the state and nation.

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