A judge yesterday froze part of Gov. Chris Christie’s executive order to suspend the activity of the state Council on Affordable Housing for 90 days. Appellate Judge Stephen Skillman said the council should resume its activities until the court has a chance to hear an appeal filed by the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit advocate for affordable housing in New Jersey. On Feb. 9, Christie signed an executive order that stopped the council from processing towns’ affordable housing plans while a taskforce evaluated the state’s approach to promoting low-income housing.
But the Fair Share center said the governor does not have the authority to stop the work of the council, known as COAH, because it was created in 1985 by the Legislature.
“It’s significant because it recognizes that the governor’s power has limits,” Kevin Walsh, an attorney with the center, said of the order. “It acknowledges the role in a participatory democracy of the Legislature and of an independent agency and of advocates like ourselves.”
Advocates for minorities say the council has helped break an old practice of keeping poor people out of rich towns, but municipalities say it has tied their hands and forced them to open the gates to thousands of residents — and pay for the extra services.
Christie has been a vehement opponent of the council, which for 25 years has pushed towns in New Jersey to provide access to affordable housing. As a candidate, Christie called the council Trenton’s “worst idea” and said it should be “scrapped.”
The council voted 5-2 last week to accept Christie’s order to shut down, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs said the decision means that the council “would return to its normal activities.”
“The council is considering its options and has been conferring with the governor’s office,” spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said in a statement. She noted the governor’s task force would continue on its course.
Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, said the judge’s order gave momentum to legal quests to overturn other executive orders that froze environmental and other regulations. Star Ledger