COAH finally unveils new guidelines

New Jersey needs more than 100,000 new units of affordable housing to fulfill future obligations to its residents and those envisioned by state officials decades ago, according to new rules unveiled Wednesday by the Council on Affordable Housing.The release of the guidelines, the latest chapter in the controversial history of COAH, comes after the state Supreme Court in September ordered Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to come up with new rules for ensuring towns can’t use zoning laws to exclude lower-income residents.

But it also comes more than two months after COAH, a unit of the state Department of Community Affairs, was first supposed to write new rules.

Coming after a 5-to-1 vote by COAH, the new guidelines say the state needs another 110,000 units to cover previous affordable housing needs that have not been met, as well as current and future needs, according to a report Thursday on NJ.com. But that number fell short for housing advocates and other critics of the Christie administration.

“I don’t really think this is a good faith attempt at doing what the courts asked,” Kevin Walsh, associate director for the advocacy group Fair Share Housing Center, told NJ.com.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released this statement:

“Today the Council of Affordable Housing voted out the rules without the public ever seeing them or having any comment before they were published. They did not have a stakeholder process or open process ahead of time. When the government hides things they are not doing the public business. COAH is not even having meetings prior to the public hearing again keeping people from knowing what is going on.”

COAH, a product of the 29-year-old Fair Housing Act and the Mount Laurel court decisions that go back to 1975, has been reviled by developers and has been a frequent target for Christie since he took office in 2010. The governor has sought to abolish the agency, only to be rebuffed by the Supreme Court last summer.

The latest twist came in September when court upheld a ruling that struck down guidelines adopted by COAH. The case centered largely on provisions that say a municipality accrues its affordable housing obligation as a percentage of the residential building and job growth that occurs within its borders, a formula based on statewide data on projected housing need, employment and residential growth.

But the court opposed the rule, noting towns can effectively avoid building affordable units by not allowing development. So the panel ordered the agency to come up with new rules by Feb. 26 that it said can be implemented quickly, and help the state’s decades-old push to prevent exclusionary zoning laws.

That deadline came and went with no new information from the state, and the Christie administration received an extension to May 1 after the court threatened to punish COAH.

The formula in question was established in 2004 under COAH’s “third round” of rules —and then revised in 2008 — intended to address a second round that expired in 1999. COAH, which hasn’t met regularly since 2010, now has until November to finalize the new guidelines.
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