NJ Supreme Court Hearing – Council on Affordable Housing ‘Third Round Rules’

On Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 the New American Movement attended the NJ Supreme Court oral argument regarding the multifaceted appeals of the Council on Affordable Housing’s “third-round rules”. This case underlies the historical legal battle of Mount Laurel, a controversial doctrine requiring municipalities to provide affordable housing based on regional need. The issue in question is whether the Supreme Court should endorse the Appellate Division’s October 2010 opinion, which rescinds a number of COAH’s third-round rules.

The oral argument opened up with the appellant’s (New Jersey State League of Municipalities) examination of municipality’s obligation to provide affordable housing in the landscape of 2012, concluding that “if there is no growth, there is no need to provide affordable housing”. Suggesting that the Fair Housing Act is a “snapshot in time”, the plaintiff asked the judges to ensure that New Jersey’s constitutional obligation to Affordable Housing construction reflects the current socioeconomic condition of the state: to satisfy future housing needs as demand increases, recognize the importance of a “growth-share methodology”, and accept that Mount Laurel displays the theory of growth share.

Municipalities and the state uttered the great need to adopt new rules, as Mount Laurel has not produced enough affordable housing. Their new approach, as proposed by the Christie Administration, would require developers to build one or two affordable units for every ten homes priced at market-value. The frequency of job-creation as per municipality would also be a determining factor. While municipalities would not receive quantity bonuses or other reimbursements to compensate the financial burden of building affordable housing units, the Christie Administration would allow them to regain control by limiting State scrutiny of municipal housing plans.

The New American Movement was puzzled by the arguments of the appellants, as they are seemingly artless. They provide no evidence as to where this methodology has been successful in planning and fail to understand the precedents of the affordable housing movement. Without the obligation of providing a minimum number of affordable housing units, municipalities have no need to include low-income individuals or persons with disabilities. Equally, under the Fair Housing Act, it is unprecedented for municipalities to set the standard for other municipalities within their Fair Housing Region.

The plaintiffs, on behalf of advocates for low-income residents and building associations, refuted this allegation by contending that the Fair Housing Act and rules set forth in Mount Laurel II keep municipalities in check with their obligation to their Fair Housing Regional Authority. History has shown–as per legislative history of the ACLU- that a state reduction in affordable housing oversight allows municipalities to engage in exclusionary zoning.

Conversely, Justice Albin attested that utilizing a growth share approach to affordable housing is“experimentation with public policy.” Plaintiffs’ strengthened their argument by noting that 60,000 affordable homes have been built since the adoption of a fair share methodology. Combining this factor and lessons of the past, plaintiffs’ pleaded that the court affirms Judge Skillman’s conclusions (the Mount Laurel II precedent.)

Bottom line: New Jersey is an increasingly expensive place to live. That fact alone should ensure that affordable housing obligations are met in a sound manner. Although both sides concede this reality, the standards set in place to prevent the discrimination of low-income individuals and people with disabilities must be preserved. Lastly, the New American Movement team affirms that allowing the housing market to dictate where one can live in the community invalidates our commitment to equal opportunity.

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