Housing: Our Common Ground

The past few days have been groundbreaking in New Jersey for affordable housing, for not only people with disabilities, but all disenfranchised groups seeking affordable, accessible and supportive housing.

First, the New American Movement hosted the Supportive Housing Associations coffee klatch in which the NAMWPD team had the opportunity to meet individuals with shared goals of increase legislative participation and aspirations of creating a more equal society. Developers, service providers for individuals with mental illness and those experiencing homelessness, as well as representatives from disability professionals and youth transitional programs joined in NAMPWD’s discussion of affecting change. Our commonality in the group of support services: housing. The NAMPWD team emphasized the necessity of advocating to our legislative representatives in the fight for affordable and accessible housing throughout the state. Being in the presence of such a large and diverse group of people with shared goals was inspiring and reassuring that there is a body of individuals working and fighting for a more equal society.

Second, as of Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Governor Christie does not have the executive power to seize the municipalities’ funds in his attempt to dissolve the Council on Affordable Housing. This decision comes after almost seven long months awaiting New Jersey’s highest court’s decision. The New American Movement Team attended the hearing back in January, in which we recorded the egotistical attempt of the Governor’s office to dissolve the Council on Affordable Housing.

“In the language of COAH, the council is ‘in but not of the Department of Community Affairs.’ This simple semantics controversy holds the precedent for all councils and commissions under the executive office. To the defendant, no council or commission is independent of any of the three branches of government. Meaning, all matters of the state fall under either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch.

That being said, to the defendant, the language used by the establishment of COAH by the legislative branch as ‘in but not of’ cannot be viewed as independent of a branch of government, and therefore falls under the executive branch, thus subjecting it to executive powers.

Needless to say, the Justices of the Supreme Court did not take this assertion very kindly. Evoking the intentions of the founding fathers and the history of the State of New Jersey, the justices questioned the extent of power the executive branch actually has. Noting that never before has a council been absolved by an executive power, the Justices hinted that the executive branch has never before desired to extend responsibility and control over a council created by legislation…

…As a representative on behalf of people with disabilities and an advocate for affordable housing, this argument on behalf of Christie and his executive branch appeared comically presumptuous. The COAH was designed to be comprised of 12 representatives, 6 democrats and 6 republicans. The intentions of the legislative branch were clear in their stipulations of the 12 representatives that would comprise the council: bipartisanship. Fundamentally, the mere attempt of Christie to absolve the council is in direct contradiction of the council’s purpose and a gross overstep of the governor’s powers, regardless of which branch of government COAH falls under.”– NAMPWD’s reaction to Supreme Court hearings on January 28th, 2013.

This decision is HUGE news for all of the supporters of affordable housing the state of New Jersey, not only because of its implied limitations to Christie’s executive powers over other state councils, but because it is truly an opportunity for municipalities to fulfill their commitment to supportive housing around the state.

Last week, the Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Association in New Jersey, Gail Levinson, urged New Jersey residents and lawmakers to work together to solve our gaping hole in available and affordable housing. Levinson noted that there are 25,000 people experiencing homelessness and over 7,000 people with developmental disabilities in need of housing around the state. Equally, this number does not include the individuals displaced by Hurricane Sandy, nor the families who struggle each month to make rent payments and stay in their home. Almost a broken record,- the rallying point for low-income workers, homeless, people with developmental disabilities and those displaced by natural disaster: affordable housing, now.

And now is the time. Wednesday affirms that New Jersey’s Department of Justice is behind us. With the dollars staying in municipalities’ hands, now is the time to “get the ball rolling.” The courtroom circus that emerged from the COAH controversy was the consequence of idle dollars- we cannot let the dollars remain idle any longer.  We must work to build an integrated and diverse community, let’s rally around this decision with shovels in hand and break new ground not only on foundation for home, but on our community development as a whole.

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