The state Supreme Court has opted to take over regulation of affordable housing policy, taking it out of the hands of the Chris Christie administration following years of controversy and uncertainty over how towns should determine their obligations for low- and moderate-income residents.In a ruling Tuesday, the court voted 6-0 to take on the duties of the Council on Affordable Housing, an agency that has been virtually dormant under Christie. And the council under Christie has failed to come up with updated guidelines for carrying out the 30-year-old Fair Housing Act, leaving local governments and developers with little direction when it comes to such projects.
The decision was widely seen as blow to Christie, who has tried to eliminate COAH in the past, and a victory for affordable housing advocates. And the ruling stems from a lawsuit filed late last year by the Fair Share Housing Center after COAH missed a court-ordered November deadline for crafting its first set of new rules since the last ones expired in 1999.
“We thus are in the exceptional situation in which the administrative process has become nonfunctioning, rendering futile the FHA’s administrative remedy,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for the court, according to a report by nj1015.com.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner did not participate in the case because he worked on affordable housing issues previously as the state’s attorney general, the report said.
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The ruling is the latest twist in a saga that dates back 40 years to the landmark Mount Laurel decision, which stemmed from a challenge to the town’s exclusionary zoning policies and led to the Fair Housing Act. But it also means towns and developers involved in a dispute over affordable housing obligations will now have to go to the court for a resolution.
However, the court also noted that the duties could be returned to COAH if it adopts constitutional rules or if lawmakers overhaul the state’s affordable housing laws.
“We will establish a transitional process and not immediately allow exclusionary zoning actions to proceed in recognition of the various stages of municipal preparation that exist as a result of the long period of uncertainty attributable to COAH’s failure to promulgate third-round rules,” the court said.
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