Making housing affordable

Scrapping New Jersey’s affordable housing rules would be a major setback in a state that ranks among the most expensive places to live.

Gov. Christie wants to gut the requirements that stem from a landmark state Supreme Court housing discrimination case centered on Mount Laurel and a lawsuit by black residents.

Further, a bill in the Legislature would help towns sidestep any legal and moral obligations to provide affordable housing.

A better approach would be fix what is broken. The current system isn’t perfect, but it has forced towns to provide low- and moderate-income housing.

Last week, the governor rescinded a controversial executive order that suspended New Jersey’s affordable housing regulations. He was likely to lose a court battle over the issue.

Now Christie appears poised to endorse recommendations from a task force he appointed in February to come up with ways to improve the system. The report was not expected until May.

Why the hurry on such a crucial matter that has divided the state for decades?

The task force suggests waiving previously ordered housing obligations and starting from scratch.
The Council on Affordable Housing, which enforces regulations, would be eliminated. County planning boards would determine if a town met its housing obligations, a bad idea in light of the state’s track record.

New Jersey is one of the most economically segregated states in the country, with high concentrations of poverty in its urban centers. Current housing requirements call for 115,000 new low-cost units by 2015. The obligations were first due in 1999, but have been delayed.

But a bill introduced by state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union) would put the state on a different course. The result would likely mean that fewer affordable housing options would be available.

Under the proposal, about half of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities would be deemed in compliance. The bar would be lowered for the remaining towns to meet the requirements.

Critics note that even former Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s luxury condo in Hoboken would be considered affordable housing.

In the biggest step backward, the bill would allow municipalities to pay poorer towns to build a portion of their affordable housing.

Instead of letting towns buy their way out of the requirements, New Jersey must find ways to improve affordable housing regulations to provide adequate housing for all residents.