Residents pan talk of growth

Staff Writer

pan talk
of growth
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Affordable housing in New Jersey is an issue most people will support, but ask them how to achieve it and opinions will vary.

That was the case at town hall recently when a New Jersey lobbyist for "Smart Growth" gave a presentation to about 25 residents.

Tim Evans, research director for New Jersey Future, a not-for-profit organization, got a less-than-enthusiastic reception from those who heard his suggestions on how to provide affordable housing through Smart Growth, and how that concept should be developed in Howell and throughout the state.

Evans came to give the presentation at the invitation of Sharon Carpenter-Migliaccio, chairwoman of Howell’s new Affordable Housing Committee. The committee was created by the Township Council in an effort to stay current on statewide housing developments.

During the Sept. 23 presentation, Evans said Smart Growth is defined as well-planned development that protects open space farmland while revitalizing existing communities.

Evans defined suburban sprawl as "leapfrogging highway strips, auto-dependent with concentrations of development, either residential or commercial, in specific, non-contiguous developments."

Evans said sprawl led inevitably to "disinvestment," which he said was manifested by the "people and places left behind in the cities and older suburbs." Evans said disinvestment is what causes declining home values along with job loss.

According to Evans, almost half of Howell’s work force is employed outside of Monmouth County, with 10 percent working in another state.

With all the commuting that entails, Evans said 84.2 percent of those commuters ride to work alone in their cars, compared to a statewide average of 75 percent. He said the reason for the high commuting numbers for Howell is job dispersal coupled with the absence of mass transit.

Evans’ observation that "a lot of peoplelive in Howell because they can’t afford to live closer to where they work," did not sit well with some audience members.

Also, Evans said of Howell, "This is McMansion land" where "living large" was characterized by a preponderance of large, nine-room or more homes being built on large lots.

Evans said he defined affordable housing as housing available to "many middle class households that are having a hard time finding houses in New Jersey they can afford."

Evans said this includes recent college graduates, newlyweds, entry level professionals and retail and service workers.

According to Evans, 25 percent of Howell homeowners pay at least 25 percent of their income for housing; he said renters have to pay about 35 percent.

He said Monmouth County, although having a developed retail and service industry, "doesn’t come near to providing enough rental units."

Carpenter-Migliaccio told the gathering, "We need to find a way, something in place to say at least 10, preferably 20 percent (of housing) is set aside for these people."

When Evans, who lives in Pennsylvania, went on to advance the theory that what Howell needs to provide affordable housing is increased residential density, he heard from some who were in decided disagreement.

"Density is important because if everyone [in the state] lived at Howell’s density, there wouldn’t be enough room in the state for everyone who wants to live here," he said.

However, in observing that a lot of people moved to Howell in order to live on large lots or to enjoy several acres, resident Charles Chirico told Evans, "People want their home to be an open space. You advocate what people moved here to get away from. Not everyone wants to be able to reach out and shake a neighbor’s hand."

Echoing Chirico was resident Jamie Saults, who asked Evans, "Why is it up to us to make room for everybody? Let them go to another state."