New COAH rules set stage for new battle Developers, advocates leery of new guidelines

Joshua Burd//June 30, 2014//

New COAH rules set stage for new battle Developers, advocates leery of new guidelines

Joshua Burd//June 30, 2014//

Listen to this article

The fight over affordable housing in New Jersey is far from over.

Hearing that may come as no surprise, but the decades-old battle will re-emerge this week when new rules from the Council on Affordable Housing take center stage in Trenton. On Wednesday, the agency will open a public hearing for the proposed guidelines on how towns can meet obligations for providing low- and moderate-income units.

That’s likely to bring new backlash from both developers and affordable housing advocates, experts say — and a new round of litigation for an agency that has spent a nearly a decade in court.

“I expect the rules are going to be challenged, as proposed,” said Edward Boccher, a land use and redevelopment attorney at DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole LLP. “The real challenge, particularly from development industry’s point of view, is going to be that the rules on their face understate the need for affordable housing in the state.”

The unending debate over COAH’s guidelines has long frustrated developers, who say many local governments have hidden behind the controversy to stall multifamily development. Boccher said clients have raised questions about the latest rules, especially the data the agency used to calculate the new obligations.

The council, a product of the 29-year-old Fair Housing Act and the landmark Mount Laurel court rulings, unveiled its latest guidelines in April. The rules said the state needs another 110,000 units to cover previously unmet affordable housing needs, as well as current and future needs.

Previous versions of the rules dating back to 2004 have been challenged by affordable housing advocates, prompting the state Supreme Court to order revisions last fall. Insiders believe COAH will adopt its new rules later this year.

With the upcoming public hearing and a comment period that runs through Aug. 2, the agency is likely in store for a fresh wave of criticism from the business community, especially multifamily developers.

David Fisher, the president of the New Jersey Builders Association, said in a statement to NJBIZ that his group “remains committed to working to institute a system which will enable the state to establish an effective and sustainable affordable housing policy, which provides for a variety and choice of housing for all people, especially lower income households.”

Fisher, however, isn’t sure that will happen at this point.

“Unfortunately, we have many concerns with the COAH’s newest proposal and believe it misses the mark on capturing the essence of the Mount Laurel doctrine,” he said. “It is our hope that the stakeholders can come together over the next few months to find a workable and constitutional solution to an issue that has plagued the construction industry for decades and has restricted the state’s economic and social growth.”