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Mythbusting the Revised COAH Rules

Over the last several months, we have heard an astonishing array of myths about the revised third round

COAH's Revised rules will not bankrupt your community, nor force you to build on your preserved open space..

COAH rules and their impacts on municipalities. We would like to put these myths to rest. COAH’s revised rules will not bankrupt your community, nor force you to build on your preserved open space. Rather, the revised COAH rules will provide opportunity for middle-income, hardworking people in your community to live in a nice home at a price they can afford. At a time when the economy is in a downturn and foreclosures are rising rapidly across the country, the security and stability of a home is something we can all appreciate.

What is growth share?
Growth share is a way to measure a municipality’s affordable housing needs based on actual growth that takes place. Under growth share, one unit among every five housing units created in a municipality must be affordable; one affordable housing unit must be provided for every 16 jobs created in a municipality, measured by new commercial development. But keep in mind that a municipality is only responsible for building affordable housing when they have built market rate housing and commercial development. If neither market rate units nor commercial development are built, affordable units do not have to be built, because no growth has taken place.

I have heard that COAH is forcing my municipality to grow exponentially and that our town is being forced to meet impossible affordable housing goals. Is this true?

COAH is not forcing municipalities to grow. As a result of the Court’s 2007 decision, COAH has identified a need for 115,000 affordable units statewide over 20 years between 1999 and 2018, or about 5,750 units annually. Affordable housing opponents are suggesting that municipalities must grow six or seven times more than this to meet affordable housing requirements. This is false. Growth share says that for every five units of housing built, one of these must be affordable. So a municipality that builds 20 market rate units would have to build five affordable units. The reverse, however, is simply not true. If a municipality builds 20 affordable units, they are not required to also build 80 market rate units. The obligation is triggered by market rate growth; affordable housing does not drive the growth. When growth does occur, affordable housing should be built as part of that growth. Last year, the state added 23,000 homes and 49.6 million square feet of non-residential construction. This is an opportunity for sound affordable housing planning.

COAH says we have vacant land such as backyards, parks, and highway medians on which we must build affordable housing.

COAH would never require or permit affordable housing development to be placed in homeowners’ backyards, parks or in the median of a highway. COAH used the best statewide data available to determine the amount of vacant land available in New Jersey. COAH is aware that local data may be more accurate than statewide data. Any municipality may submit actual local data to COAH and we will work with municipalities and adjust the projections accordingly. In fact, COAH has created worksheets your town can use to do these calculations now and make any needed adjustments.

I am hearing that our community will have to choose between open space preservation and meeting affordable housing goals. Why is COAH thwarting our open space and farmland preservation efforts?

COAH’s new rules will not prevent a community from meeting its open space goals. Municipalities can undertake sound planning that involves both open space preservation and affordable housing goals. It may involve creating downtown centers where people can shop and live, while protecting outlying farmland. It may involve redeveloping a brownfield site, or providing affordable housing over existing storefronts. Remember, where to place affordable housing is a decision of the municipality, not of COAH.

COAH’s revised rules are incompatible with new DEP requirements, and the requirements of other agencies, such as the Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission. We are being pulled in different directions by the state.

This is false. COAH used the latest DEP rules on protecting water quality and preventing flooding. We agree it is important for all state agencies to work together. We are working on Memoranda of Understanding with DEP, the Highlands Council, the Pinelands Commission, the Meadowlands Commission, Fort Monmouth, the Casino Redevelopment Authority, and the State Planning Commission to ensure that our rules provide affordable housing opportunities while protecting critical environmental resources. The Legislature just passed a law that requires 20 percent of all housing built in these regional areas to be affordable, creating a new opportunity to provide affordable housing as a part of market rate growth. The Legislature also recognized the need for regional planning to help protect the state’s environmental resources while promoting affordable housing based on infrastructure and transportation.

I understand that taxes for our residents will go up drastically if our town is forced to meet the state’s affordable housing requirements. Is this true?

Absolutely not! State law does not require the use of property taxes to fund affordable housing. The facts are that municipalities have many ways to meet affordable housing requirements without raising property taxes. You can collect local development fees based on market rate housing and commercial development to help pay for affordable housing. This money can be kept locally by towns participating with COAH. These towns also have priority access to a new statewide pool of funding for affordable housing, which is expected to provide up to $160 million each year. Currently, over $200 million in unspent development fee funds are sitting in municipal affordable housing trust funds. This money must be used for affordable housing. Additionally, there are federal programs for affordable housing. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 just signed into law in July will bring millions of dollars of new money into New Jersey. Federal tax credits and support from the Federal Home Loan Bank are available. There is also the private sector, which can provide affordable housing as part of inclusionary developments that mix market and affordable housing, at no cost to the taxpayer.

Affordable housing means new school children in our school district. We can’t afford it!

Affordable housing does not generate any more school children than the market rate housing that is built in your community. Also, Governor Corzine has implemented a new school funding formula, where money for public schools is based on actual child enrollment. So as new students move into your community, additional funding will be provided by the state to your school district depending on the unique educational needs of the children.

Why do we have to provide affordable housing?

The realistic opportunity for affordable housing was determined to be a constitutional obligation by the NJ Supreme Court in 1975, in the case of Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mt. Laurel (Mt. Laurel I) and in its 1983 Mt. Laurel II. On July 2, 1985 the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted as the legislative response to the Supreme Court rulings. The Act created COAH as the voluntary administrative alternative to the Courts. In January 2007 the Court declared that COAH had to revise its methodology to allow for the creation of more affordable housing units.

So much is in flux in the area of affordable housing. The Legislature just passed a law banning Regional Contribution Agreements. COAH’s rules are again being challenged. Why should our municipality move forward to meet the December deadline?

We understand the concern about moving forward given all of the changes in the affordable housing arena. But based upon the Court decisions, affordable housing is an ongoing requirement of our state’s constitution, and delaying the provision of affordable housing will only mean fewer options down the road for your municipality. If you delay, you may lose valuable opportunities to capture affordable housing now in a way that promotes sound planning and allows you to also preserve open space. It also means municipalities will be at risk of a builder’s remedy lawsuit. COAH is working hard to keep you informed of all changes and recently hosted a series of 10 seminars attended by over 500 municipal officials and planners. We are providing guidance on the new law so that your path to meeting your affordable housing needs is clear and understandable. Municipalities have until December 31, 2008 to submit affordable housing plans and we are available now to help you with your planning.

We do not wish to participate and our municipality may just opt out of COAH altogether.

Even though the affordable housing obligation is mandatory under the constitution, participation in COAH’s process is voluntary. However, municipalities that are not participating in the COAH process run the risk of being sued for exclusionary zoning and forced into a builder’s remedy lawsuit. In a builder’s remedy lawsuit, municipalities lose their ability to choose where and how affordable housing will be provided and the development may conflict with the municipality’s master plan. Under COAH, municipalities can plan for their affordable housing needs through a public process and also have priority access to many affordable housing funding sources. It will be easier and less costly to meet both affordable housing and other goals of the municipality, such as open space efforts, when participating voluntarily through COAH.

How can our municipality meet our affordable housing obligation?

Municipalities need to put zoning or other affordable housing programs in place to create a realistic opportunity for the affordable housing need to be addressed. COAH provides a flexible array of options for providing affordable housing, including 100 percent affordable projects using a non-profit or for-profit partner, zoning for affordable housing, purchasing existing homes in the community and making them affordable for working class families and seniors, building affordable units over retail stores in downtowns or preserving existing affordable units into the future, among other options. COAH is available to assist municipalities. Planning for affordable housing need not be a daunting process.





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