Gov. Chris Christie Creates Task Force To Review Affordable Housing

pine river villageAs the Legislature debates the future of affordable housing in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie will take his own stab at the issue by asking a five-member group to produce a public report with analysis and recommendations within 90 days. Christie signed an executive order today asking the group, which he calls the Housing Opportunity Task Force, to figure out how to provide affordable and “workforce” housing while considering the environment and open space. The order says the group should evaluate renovations of crumbling housing instead of new construction and assess the state’s current system.

Christie’s order also halts all work by the Council, unless the acting commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs decides it would jeopardize the opportunity to create affordable housing.

Throughout his campaign and into his time as governor, Christie has said he wanted to “gut” the state Council on Affordable Housing, known as COAH, but he has given little detail about what that means. The executive order calls the council’s procedures “excessively complex and unworkable.” It says the “delays and controversy” over the current methods “strongly suggest” there are better ways to go.

A state Senate committee Monday held its second hearing on how to revamp New Jersey’s approach to affordable housing. The senate bill would dismantle the housing council and provide a way for towns to determine whether their development and zoning plans meet a state standard for affordable housing levels.

New Jersey’s current approach stems from the state Supreme Court’s 1975 and 1983 Mount Laurel decisions, which are named for the Burlington County township that was sued. The court said every resident is entitled to access to affordable housing.

A decade later, the state passed the Fair Housing Act and created the housing council to implement policy. Critics of the policy say the models for determining the need for housing are outdated and saddle cities and towns with unnecessary extra housing and residents — and the accompanying cost of providing services to them.

The court placed the burden of ensuring access to affordable housing on the municipalities, but the governor, in his executive order, said a state plan is necessary for affordable housing obligations are met “in a manner that is both fair and reasonable.”

Bill Dressel, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he was curious to see how the governor would make his mark. The league has taken the council to court over its calculations.

“Traditionally, COAH issues have been dealt with through the legislative process,” he said. “This is kind of like no-man’s land.” Star Ledger.

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