Borough’s new housing fee may put some homeowners in bind

Tab for affordable-housing account adds nearly $60,000 per dwelling unit

By: Marjorie Censer
   Princeton Borough residents Anthony and Jennifer Arroyo originally planned to live in Hamilton. Ms. Arroyo is a kindergarten teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Princeton, and Mr. Arroyo was, at the time, a police officer in Willingboro.
   "Hamilton was a great middle ground," Mr. Arroyo explained.
   But after Ms. Arroyo’s father died in January 2005, she did not want to leave Princeton. As a fifth-generation resident of Princeton, she wanted to stay close to her family. The Arroyos opted to move into the other half of a duplex owned by Ms. Arroyo’s mother and made plans to build a roughly 1,770-square-foot home in the front yard of the duplex on Humbert Lane.
   The couple contacted an architect and created a plan that includes three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms and a raised basement. The house is just within their budget — Mr. Arroyo estimated it will cost between $215,000 and $220,000 to build it.
   But plans for the couple’s home have come to a halt in the past week, when Mr. Arroyo learned that the ordinance passed by Borough Council on Tuesday would have a startling effect on his project. The pro forma fee — intended to help the borough meet its affordable-housing obligation — would add nearly $60,000 to the cost of the project. The fee is one-eighth the estimated cost of an affordable-housing unit in the borough.
   The Arroyos found themselves at the center of the council’s discussion Tuesday, when members expressed sympathy for the couple’s predicament, but ultimately opted to pass the ordinance. Council members said they would look soon to introduce an amendment to deal with the Arroyos’ case and similar instances.
   Council members said they realized the irony in requiring a contribution toward affordable housing from a family that is, in fact, creating affordable housing.
   "We’re talking about a person who comes in and builds a home that is — by our community standards — affordable. They create an affordable-housing obligation, and they’re building an affordable house," Councilman Andrew Koontz said. "There is a point where this just doesn’t make any sense."
   But unless the council passes an amendment to the plan that will waive the fee or provide another way to pay for it, Mr. Arroyo says he can’t afford to build the home — or to live in Princeton at all.
   "I have to move elsewhere," he said. "We can’t stay here."
   For the Arroyos, a move would be painful — particularly as Mr. Arroyo was recently hired by the borough Police Department.
   In a letter to the council, Ms. Arroyo chronicled the past of her family in Princeton. Both her grandfather and father ran successful home-improvement businesses in town, and her cousin owns La Mezzaluna restaurant on Witherspoon Street. Her father volunteered with the Princeton Recreation Department for nearly 20 years, and Ms. Arroyo herself volunteered as a candy striper at the University Medical Center at Princeton. The Arroyos were married four months ago at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Nassau Street.
   Ms. Arroyo’s mother lives in the other half of the duplex, and her grandmother and aunt and uncle live in a duplex next door.
   Mr. Arroyo said his home construction project is on hold until he sees what the council will do.
   If the ordinance remains in its current form, "we don’t stand a chance with it," he said.