|November 12, 2008
COAH/Affordable Housing Update
On Monday, November 10, a group of housing advocates held a Statehouse press conference to announce the kickoff of a statewide campaign to, according to them, refute inaccuracies and distortions put forth by those who they state oppose the new housing regulations and are resistant to affordable housing in their communities. In this press conference, the Executive Director of The Housing and Community Development Network accused local officials, and presumably the League, of engaging in a “whisper campaign” against the new housing law and regulations, and we presume against affordable housing in general.
It is unproductive for each side in this policy debate to accuse the other of distortions and misrepresentations. So we leave their comments alone and let you judge for yourselves. However, it is undeniable that some housing advocates and COAH itself are not accurately interpreting the criticisms of the COAH regulations brought forth by the League and by municipal governments.
On July 15, the League of Municipalities filed, with the Appellate Division, its notice of intent to challenge the recently adopted COAH “third round” regulations. As we announced our legal challenge, the League made it clear that the litigation is not a challenge of the “Fair Housing Act,” or what is commonly referred to as the “Mount Laurel obligation.” To date, 247 municipalities have made financial contributions towards this challenge.
Municipalities do not oppose the provision of affordable housing. Instead, municipalities oppose a regulatory structure that dampens economic development and creates overwhelming property tax burdens, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The fact that the vast majority of communities who have been previously COAH certified and filed third round plans based on the 2004 regulations are part of this legal challenge speaks for itself.
We note that the Fair Share Housing Center is also challenging the validity of the COAH regulations. The Housing and Community Development Network was a founding member of the “Coalition for Affordable Housing and the Environment” (CAHE) which was an appellant in the 2004 COAH challenge. Thus, these advocates see fit to push their own legal challenges over regulations with which they disagree. But when local officials do the same, publicly raising factual criticisms of the regulations, the advocates accuse local officials of engaging in a “whisper campaign.”
A major criticism of these advocates is that municipalities are claiming that they are going to be required to build affordable housing in back yards, school grounds, preserved open space and other land that is clearly not developable. In fact, what we assert is that COAH erred in relying on a vacant land analysis which counted such land as suitable for development in many circumstances, while calculating the State’s supply of vacant developable land. What we assert is that COAH relied on such undevelopable land in calculating the statewide need of approximately 115,000 units. It is inaccurate to claim that the League is arguing that such land will be built upon. Instead, other than pointing out the these obvious flaws in the vacant land assessment, what we argue is that land not suited for development was counted in developing a growth projection, and that the municipality will be charged with developing a plan based on that projection. This is a significant distinction that these advocates either do not understand or choose to ignore.
There are other assertions brought forth, which we believe are misinterpretations of the League’s position and that of local governments. To respond to each would take too long in this format, but the December issue of the League’s magazine will feature an article by DCA Commissioner Doria on the COAH regulations and an accompanying article by the League in response.
We should also note that State Senator Raymond Lesniak issued a statement regarding the unintended consequences of the COAH regulations. Since Senator Lesniak was the Senate sponsor of the new housing law, (PL 2008, c.46), we believe this statement to be significant and we thank the Senator for his recognition that local governments will need new and creative mechanisms and funding to provide for affordable housing. More background is available in the Star-Ledger story of November 11.
If you recall, as noted in our Dear Mayor letter of October 8, the League’s brief in this matter is to be filed with the Appellate Division by the first week in January. (Please note that the letter indicates a date of January 4, which is a Sunday. The due date is now Monday, January 5, 2009.)
Additional information on this matter can be found at: http://www.njslom.org/COAH_Resources.html
We also call your attention to COAH’s letter of October 30, 2008, regarding the implementation of PL 2008, c. 46.
Questions on this letter can be directed to Mike Cerra at email@example.com or at (609) 695-3481 x120.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.