Make way for affordable housing

Gov. Christie should take advantage of the latest legal ruling in the battle over affordable housing in New Jersey to reach a compromise.

Christie suffered a setback last week when an appeals judge lifted a 90-day moratorium imposed by the new governor suspending the state’s affordable-housing regulations.

Gov. Christie

But the judge left intact a five-member task force named by Christie to develop recommendations for providing affordable housing, which seems like a more reasonable approach to reforming the system.

Christie jumped into the fray by issuing an executive order halting work by the state Council on Affordable Housing. The Fair Share Housing Center challenged the action, and the judge issued a stay pending a hearing next month.

By shutting down the council, Christie fired a salvo that could seriously undermine the high-court rulings that forced towns to live up to their legal and moral obligations. It is the latest chapter in a state Supreme Court case dating back to 1975 that stemmed from the Mount Laurel housing discrimination case brought by black residents.

Advocates have long hoped that the case would help change the landscape in New Jersey, one of the most economically segregated states in the country, with high concentrations of poverty in its urban centers.

But progress has been slow, and opponents have been allowed to use loopholes in the law to skirt requirements to provide a fair share of the low- and moderate-income housing needed.

Even the council kowtowed to Christie, voting 5 to 2 to adopt the governor’s order restricting its role.

Those who oppose affordable-housing regulations have been up in arms since the state in 2008 closed a loophole that had allowed many municipalities to pay poorer towns to build a portion of their affordable housing.

The courts have rightfully held that affordable housing serves the general welfare and is an “inherently beneficial use,” similar to hospitals and schools.

Current housing requirements call for 115,000 new low-cost units by 2015. The obligations were first due in 1999, but have been delayed.

Instead of pandering to towns and developers, Christie should find ways to make the process operate better, not gut it, as he has proposed.

That begins with more streamlined regulations, less bureaucracy, and better efficiency and planning. There must also be an accurate assessment of how many housing units are needed.

Proposed legislation that would let towns decide their own housing obligations would be a step in the wrong direction. They have shown that the honor system doesn’t work.

New Jersey is the second-most-expensive state for homeowners and the fourth for renters.

Without more affordable housing, the next generation may find itself unable to live in the state. That could make it difficult to attract and retain a broad mix of residents and businesses in New Jersey.