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NJ Supreme Court ruling Could Leave Towns on Hook for 120,000 Affordable Units

Thursday, January 19, 2017   (0 Comments)
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NJspotlight.com 01/19/17

New Jersey municipalities will have to accommodate low-income residents who could not afford a place to live during a 16-year period when affordable-housing regulations were in dispute, the state Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in another landmark decision. While the full impact of the decision is unclear, it could mean municipalities being required to zone for 120,000 additional homes for low-income residents.

In the unanimous decision, the court further strengthened the constitutional obligation that all municipalities have to provide places to live for people of low- and moderate incomes, known as the Mount Laurel Doctrine because the original cases involved that Burlington County township. In this case, the fact that the state agency charged with determining municipal housing requirements and overseeing the process did not do its job properly for 16 years does not exempt towns from having to meet housing needs that existed during that period and continue to exist today.

This decision appeared to largely be a victory for Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill-based affordable housing advocate, who had appealed a lower court ruling of a case involving 13 Ocean County municipalities seeking to have a Superior Court judge determine their housing obligations. 

“Our concern now is how do you actually figure this out,” said Mike Cerra, assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. He likened the ruling to “the end of a movie that sets up the sequel with a plot twist. It seems very likely that we will be back before this same court again.” The league was a party to the case. Although it began with 13 municipalities, only one — Barnegat — remains. The other dozen Ocean County towns have since settled with Fair Share and agreed to zone for more than 7,000 units among them.

In a statement, the league called the ruling “nuanced,” and added, “This is a complicated decision, which will be discussed and debated for months to come.” Fair Share’s expert had calculated the housing need from the beginning of the gap period through 2025 at about 202,000 new units. In averaging that out to 7,756 homes a year, that would mean about 124,000 units accrued during the gap period. In its statement, Fair Share said that had the municipalities prevailed before the court “up to 60 percent of obligations municipalities must meet would have disappeared.” Sixty percent of its expert’s calculation would equal 121,000 homes. Econsult, the consultant working with Surenian’s group, had put that number at closer to 36,000 without considering any gap period obligation.


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