Assembly panel advances bill to revamp affordable housing in New Jersey

By: - January 29, 2024 5:36 pm

Legislation to overhaul New Jersey's affordable housing system advanced in the Assembly's housing committee Jan. 29, 2024. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

A bill that would overhaul New Jersey’s affordable housing system cleared another hurdle Monday when the Assembly’s housing committee advanced it along party lines.

Committee members heard about 90 minutes of testimony from affordable housing advocates who called the measure overdue and mayors and other critics who warned that unwanted housing units would burden schools, municipal infrastructure, and environmentally fragile areas.

The bill, which has a $16 million appropriation, now must go before legislative budget and appropriations committees before the full Assembly and Senate can vote on it.

The state Department of Community Affairs would get $4 million of that allocation to establish a process to calculate a municipality’s affordable housing obligations under a formula meant to minimize litigation and reduce a 224,000-unit shortage of affordable housing in New Jersey. The rest would fund an affordable housing dispute resolution program, where municipalities can challenge their obligations.

The panel’s Republican members — Assembly members Vicky Flynn and Gerry Scharfenberger, who represent Monmouth County — voted against the bill, citing concerns about how further development would worsen flooding and overwhelm schools, utilities, and other infrastructure.

Most of those who testified Monday supported the legislation.

Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing & Community Development Network of New Jersey, told lawmakers housing stability helps build generational wealth and is a critical social determinant of health.

“For the better part of the last 20 years, recalcitrant public officials used every tactic they could to delay the creation of homes that people need, to keep their communities exclusive, and not ‘change the character’ of their towns,” Berger said.

New Jersey has a “moral obligation … to build homes in every community because people in New Jersey, whether they are from here or they come here, deserve to live in a safe, stable and affordable home,” she added.

Beverly Brown Ruggia of New Jersey Citizen Action said housing unaffordability drives the financial struggles of scores of New Jersey residents.

“Housing costs create the widest gaps in kitchen table budgeting for working families,” she said.

Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center applauded the expanded transparency the bill would bring. It would require regulatory updates on how affordable homes are built and occupied and how funds that nonprofit developers can use to create and rehabilitate affordable housing are spent — information that hasn’t been updated in almost 20 years, according to the Fair Share Housing Center.

Local officials who testified largely said they endorse the idea of affordable housing, but their communities can’t handle it.

Timothy C. McDonough, mayor of Hope Township in Warren County, warned lawmakers not to apply a one-size-fits-all model to affordable housing.

“In Warren County, we have virtually no infrastructure at all. We have no mass transit, no water and sewer systems — everything is well and septic systems. A lot of towns up in that area are the same way,” McDonough said.

Stacey Fox of Mercer County Defense League, an open space preservation group, complained that development is destroying the garden part of the Garden State.

“We are quickly losing our identity,” she said.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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