Supporters of fair and affordable homes in New Jersey are celebrating a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court that upheld municipalities’ responsibility to create affordable housing to meet the need that has accumulated over the last 16 years. During that period, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), designed to set requirements for municipalities to develop affordable homes, was defunct, and many municipalities refrained from creating sufficient affordable homes for low and moderate income residents, despite a growing need. While there are not yet definitive projections as to how many homes will be built as a result of the ruling, New Jersey’s Fair Share Housing Center has estimated municipalities across the state will be required to build upwards of 100,000 additional homes to meet the need.
Established in the state is “Fair Housing Act of 1985,” COAH was responsible for analyzing the current and prospective need for homes affordable to low and moderate income New Jerseyans, as well as to those with disabilities. COAH then set requirements for municipalities to build affordable housing in their jurisdictions based on this need. Between 1985 and 1999, COAH had two housing cycles, but when the rules governing its second cycle expired in 1999, no new rules were established and the state allowed COAH to languish. In 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional requirement to build affordable housing, but declared COAH defunct and created a judicial forum to determine housing needs and to set requirements for municipalities going forward.
The Supreme Court case that concluded in early 2017 considered whether the forum’s analysis of housing obligations would include the housing needs that had been created over the 16-year period between the expiration of COAH rules and the 2015 ruling. Several municipalities and the NJ State League of Municipalities argued that the housing needs over the gap period should be ignored. The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (HCDNNJ), an NLIHC state partner, supported the position of the Fair Share Housing Center, the New Jersey Builders Association, and others who argued that the state must consider the need that had accumulated over the 16-year gap period. HCDNNJ President and CEO Staci Berger emphasized the need for a comprehensive assessment: “The need for affordable homes in this state has grown tremendously over the last two decades coinciding with a recession, a foreclosure crisis, and a devastating natural disaster. Our hardworking families, seniors, and people with disabilities have struggled to find homes they could afford during this time. New Jerseyans and their needs did not simply disappear during the gap period.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the HCDNNJ and Fair Share Housing Center’s arguments, ruling that the state’s analysis of the need for affordable and accessible homes for low and moderate income residents and those with disabilities include the gap period.
“We are glad the court recognized that all communities must address the real housing needs of NJ,” Ms. Berger stated. “Too many of our residents are struggling to make ends meet which has hurt our economy. Having an affordable home allows people to spend more on activities that spur the economy and strengthen our communities. We can’t build a thriving New Jersey if our residents can’t afford to live here. In wake of this decision, we urge our elected officials and future leaders to make the investments needed to help make our communities more affordable for all.”
For more information, contact HCDNNJ Senior Policy Coordinator Arnold Cohen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.