From the Asbury Park Press:
Ruling scolds towns for shirking affordable housing
BY DIANNE BRAKE
The Regional Planning Partnership is one of many organizations pleased with last week’s state Supreme Court decision overturning the rules of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). Our partnership is a founding member of the New Jersey Regional Coalition, the lead litigant against the COAH rules. We also are a founding member of the Coalition for Affordable Housing and the Environment, another litigant.
We have been a leader in the fight to promote the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection, both of which are advanced through a sound affordable housing plan.
For this reason, we are particularly pleased the court said that towns cannot simply pass on their entire housing obligation to private developers, nor can they restrict housing only to seniors when it is housing for families that is needed.
I can testify from my experience on COAH as to how significant the loss of independence and balance has been. In 1991, for example, the court gave COAH the responsibility to create an impact fee rule. Our rule required a town to have its housing plan certified by COAH before it could adopt a fee ordinance. The commissioner at the time, a former mayor, felt such a requirement was onerous to towns. He asked COAH to eliminate that restriction from its rules.
At that time, the commissioner was not on COAH and did not control its proceedings, as it does now. COAH said “no” to the DCA commissioner in the interest of planning and affordable housing.
The first-round rules of 1987 and second-round rules of 1993, both developed by the same academic consultant but adopted by COAH under the original structure, were upheld by the court in countless challenges. The third-round rules, promulgated under Gov. James McGreevey and Commissioner Susan Bass Levin, both former mayors, were influenced unduly by a misguided support for “home rule.”
Affordable housing obligations do not have to be opposed on home rule grounds, as demonstrated in places like Plainsboro, a wealthy suburb in Middlesex County, which has had a successful affordable housing program for more than 15 years.
Instead, it should be seen as a statewide equity issue: Local government is given the power to zone only if they exercise it in pursuit of the general welfare. In a state that has become one of the most racially and economically segregated, we cannot say that limiting affordable housing in the suburbs is in the general welfare.
It is a statewide economic issue: We are losing our work force to housing in Pennsylvania and other places out of state. As the work force seeks affordable housing out of state, many of the jobs are certain to follow.