Coalition sees broad support for RCA ban

Your Turn

Over the past week we have heard many predictions of destruction and doom with calls for resistance from towns vowing to fight the recent legislative action to ban Regional Contribution Agreements – the loophole in our fair housing law that for two decades allowed New Jersey’s wealthiest towns to pay poor communities to take their affordable housing.

Statements have filled our papers with exaggerations and falsehoods designed to stir up fear in order to prolong resistance to open housing. Some have been misleading and unnecessarily divisive at a time when our state should be coming together to make our housing policies work for us all.

As members of the New Jersey Regional Coalition – the statewide interfaith organization that fought to ban RCAs – we feel compelled to set the record straight:

• The New Jersey League of Municipalities claims that “municipal governments throughout New Jersey are preparing to fight” the new housing laws. They report that “cities and suburbs are united” against RCA repeal. This is simply not true. In fact, RCA abolition has had broad grass-roots support from homeowners and taxpayers in cities and suburbs across New Jersey. Hundreds of people converged on the statehouse to support banning RCAs. Thousands have rallied in meetings organized by the New Jersey Regional Coalition. In passing the RCA ban, legislators were responding to voices in their communities not acting against them.

• David Rusk, nationally known author and expert on housing policy said, “Passage of the omnibus housing reform bill including RCA repeal is the most momentous success of community organizing that I have participated in over the past dozen years. (Indeed, in terms of fundamentally changing the ‘geography of opportunity,’ it is the greatest success that I know about anywhere).”

• Mayors from across the state backed RCA repeal. At legislative hearings more mayors testified in support of scrapping RCAs than the handful testifying in favor of them. A diverse array of suburban mayors from Pennsauken, Montclair, Gloucester Township, Maplewood, Franklin Township and Kearny all testified against RCAs, praising Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. and Majority Leader Watson Coleman for their courageous stand on an issue of justice and fairness. At a U.S. Conference of Mayors event, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer told national television how he was working with the New Jersey Regional Coalition to eliminate Regional Contribution Agreements. Mayor Palmer later testified in support of the bill.

• The handful of towns vowing to fight the RCA ban are some of the most well-off and exclusive towns in the state. These towns felt fine approving new corporate headquarters, relocated hospitals, sprawling subdivisions, and mega warehouses. But when workers from these developments want to live there, they bemoan the loss of their town’s “character.”

• William Dressel, who heads the League of Municipalities, says the new laws will raise property taxes. If affordable housing was the cause of our high taxes, New Jersey would have some of the lowest in the country. The league’s 20-year campaign against fair housing has certainly not kept taxes down. Numerous experts have testified that RCAs have contributed to segregation and the concentration of poverty while putting growing fiscal and social pressures on more diverse suburbs driving up their tax rates. Assemblyman Peter Barnes put it well, saying, “When towns like Cranbury use RCAs, it’s towns like Edison, Hamilton and Cherry Hill that bear the brunt.”

• Several commentators claimed there is no money to pay for all this affordable housing. But it’s not affordable housing that is costing us – it is the resistance to affordable housing that has exacted such a high cost on taxpayers. The best way to pay for affordable housing is through inclusionary zoning – zoning for a mix of housing driven by the private market. Developers all over the country and throughout New Jersey have paid for hundreds of thousands of affordable units without a cent of government subsidies, and are willing to continue to do so. The only thing that would make affordable housing expensive is the continued resistance to private development through selfish zoning practices.

Unfortunately, Mr. Dressel says he will mount yet another costly protracted battle in the courts against affordable housing. These endless wars over 20 years have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars while failing to sway the courts. Each successive fight has led to more complicated and punitive remedies against recalcitrant towns.

Our elected leaders, led by Speaker Roberts, are finally taking this issue out of the courts and addressing it through the political process with all the stakeholders, including the League of Municipalities, invited to the table. We know that banning RCAs does not solve all the problems of affordable housing in New Jersey.

Much more needs to be done but Roberts deserves our praise for taking this bold first step in building the coalition of urban and suburban legislators and elected officials seeking solutions instead of the endless and costly war against affordable housing.
The Rev. Rodwell G. Thom
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
East Orange
The Rev. Charles Stephens
Unitarian Universalist Church
Washington Crossing
The Rev. Clabon Bogan Jr.
First Baptist Church of Jericho
Paul Bellan-Boyer
NJRC Housing Chair and Deacon
St. Matthew Lutheran
Jersey City