From the Field: New Jersey Budget Includes Significant Housing Investments

The New Jersey state budget signed by Governor Phil Murphy on June 29 preserves full funding of New Jersey’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) and uses general funds to pay for other non-AHTF programs, including ones to broaden access to homeownership for moderate-income families. Governor Murphy also signed a series of bills on August 4 that will provide comprehensive housing eviction prevention, legal protections, and utility assistance for renters who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates such as the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (Network), an NLIHC state partner, worked to secure critical housing investments and protections for the lowest-income renters who need safe, affordable, accessible places to live, especially during the pandemic.

The Department of Community Affairs administers the AHTF, which provides financial assistance to developers to produce and rehabilitate affordable homes across the state. These funds are legally intended for lower-income residents, targeted to households below 80% of area median income. The initial budget proposal included transferring a portion of the money in the AHTF to New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s programs geared towards middle-income families. The Network led a major advocacy campaign which included testifying on behalf of its nearly 300 members before the Assembly Budget Committee and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to express objections to the proposal. These efforts ultimately prevented the diversion of funds from the AHTF. 

“The budget deal that preserves the intent of the Trust Fund and directs general revenue to other housing programs is a win-win for New Jersey residents and communities,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Network. “Before the pandemic, New Jersey homeowners and renters – especially Black and Brown households – have suffered from a persistent lack of affordable homes. We have an opportunity to create post-pandemic recovery where our state thrives and using the Affordable Housing Trust Fund as intended, to build affordable homes for our more vulnerable residents, gets us on that path.”

The Network advocated for other bills to protect tenants from evictions, utility shutoffs, and the dire consequences that follow these actions. S.3691 appropriates an additional $500 million for emergency rental assistance (ERA) and $250 million for utility assistance. It also extends New Jersey’s eviction moratorium until the end of August for all state residents with household incomes between 80% and 120% of area median incomes (AMI) who were unable to pay rent from March 1, 2020 to August 31, 2021. Tenants with household incomes below 80% of AMI who have applied for rental assistance and who have experienced an economic impact since COVID-19 are protected from evictions for nonpayment of rent until December 31, 2021, although they must have their eligibility certified. If they do not qualify for the state program, they could be covered under the CDC’s eviction moratorium. In addition to extending the state’s eviction moratorium, S.3691 also prevents landlords from applying late fees to arrears, disclosing non-payment of rent to others, and reporting delayed rent to crediting agencies.

The governor also signed A.4463 which establishes confidentiality standards for court records of certain eviction actions initiated during the pandemic. Individuals’ court records pertaining to nonpayment of rent from March 1, 2020, through the end of the state’s moratorium will be kept confidential. Eviction records make it difficult for renters to find subsequent rental housing, so this law will ensure renters will not be harmed by circumstances out of their control.

“This bill is going to direct money to the people and programs that need it most,” said Governor Murphy. “Housing and access to utilities are fundamental to human health and safety and we want to ensure that as many eligible applicants impacted by the pandemic get the help they need during this challenging time.”

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