Affordable housing advocates have identified the need for more than 200,000 low- and moderate-income units in New Jersey through 2025, in a report that could serve as a baseline for the state judiciary as it begins to sort out the obligations for individual municipalities.
The calculations, which were prepared by the Fair Share Housing Center, could still be disputed by local officials who say the development would overburden their municipalities. But the report marks the first time Fair Share has updated the need estimates since a March 10 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which stripped the controversial Council on Affordable Housing of its duties and turned them over to the lower courts.
“The Supreme Court directed the trial courts to determine what the obligations are, and this is our initial entry in the process,” said Kevin Walsh, associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “What we’ve done is engaged in the litigation contemplated by the courts.”
The report, which Fair Share prepared with the consulting firm Kinsey & Hand, said New Jersey has an unmet need of 201,382 affordable housing units. In a town-by-town breakdown obtained by NJBIZ, the group concludes that 76 municipalities have unmet obligations of 1,000 units, the statutory cap for a single jurisdiction.
Such high numbers are likely to be challenged during upcoming judicial proceedings, but developers are welcoming the updated projections and the opportunity to clarify the municipal obligations in court.
“We hope the logjam has been broken and we can get back to building affordable housing with predictability and with certainty,” said George Vallone, president of the New Jersey Builders Association. “(It’s) something we haven’t been able to do in 15 years.”
The long-running battle over the Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, seemed to reach a turning point last month when the Supreme Court ruled the agency was “nonfunctioning.” COAH’s charge was to determine whether local governments are meeting their obligations for low- and moderate-income housing, but since 1999 has failed to produce guidelines that weren’t challenged in court.
The ruling gave towns through July to have their affordable housing plans certified in court, but after that they could face so-called builder’s remedy lawsuits, in which developers sue local governments to allow for higher density in housing projects.
The New Jersey League of Municipalities is also welcoming the chance to have local obligations decided in court, following years of uncertainty with COAH. But league President Brian Wahler cautioned that Fair Share’s latest projections may be overshooting.
“There are a lot of communities that have done the right thing and those that, for whatever reason, have had problems implementing (affordable housing plans),” said Wahler, the mayor of Piscataway. “But I don’t think the number that’s being suggested is a realistic number.
“I’m not faulting them for trying to put a number out there, but at the end of the day, the towns and the cities are going to weigh in also.” He added that municipalities “just want clarity, (but) also don’t want to get hammered with something overwhelming that their infrastructure is not going to be able to handle.”
Fair Share’s latest numbers are based on the formula that was used up until 1999, before COAH came up with new guidelines that would be challenged in court for years to come.
With the new obligations in hand, Walsh conceded that some municipalities would challenge their individual projections, but “so far the towns haven’t gotten their act together to have different numbers.” He also noted that the obligations are substantial, but that’s “because the needs people have are substantial.”
“We as a state have done a poor job of getting homes built that people need, and the reason or that is because towns block legitimate efforts at development,” Walsh said. “And the court’s March 10 decision gets us past the abuse of home rule powers.”
He added that local governments can see about getting their obligations lowered if they don’t have land or redevelopment capacity. And while the obligations are projected through 2025, he said they’re meant to guide development in good faith over a longer term.
“The towns have to do their best to meet it in the next 10 years, but if the market doesn’t produce housing at the rate that would be necessary to satisfy these obligations, then they’ll just be satisfied 20 years out, 30 years out,” he said. “Right now we’re still meeting obligations that were generated in the 1980s.”
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