Be careful what you seek to improve upon

In the News • MARK ROSMAN

Iwonder what the mavens at the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) who came up with the latest round of affordable housing numbers are thinking today.

Perhaps it is something on the order of, “We could not have come up with a more awful plan at this time in America’s history if we tried.”

I think that sums up the dud of a law that some legislators in Trenton supported in an attempt to get more affordable housing built in the Garden State. If we build all 115,000 affordable housing units that Gov. Jon Corzine wants, plus all of the homes that will have to be built and sold at market prices to subsidize the affordable units, the Garden State’s only garden product will be A frames.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (RMonmouth and Mercer) has addressed the issue of affordable housing recently and explained the new law, saying, “The Corzine affordable housing law mandates that for every 16 jobs that are created by commercial development, one affordable housing unit must be built.

“New Jersey will be the only state in the nation that penalizes job creation in this economic crisis. It also should be noted that the housing law does not reduce the obligation for jobs recently lost.

“Secondly, the Corzine affordable housing law taxes all commercial development at 2.5 percent of the project’s assessed value. If a company is looking at Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey as options for locating its headquarters, it will see New Jersey offering not only the highest taxes in the United States, but also an additional 2.5 percent tax for affordable housing,” according to the senator.

Perhaps it seemed like a good idea to the COAH crew and the state legislators who voted for this idea to link the construction of affordable housing directly to the construction of market-rate housing. After all, they could have looked all around New Jersey for the past few years and seen new homes rising all over the place.

Their thought process probably went something like this: “Since everyone is building homes, let’s force them to build one affordable unit every time they build four market-price units.”

Unfortunately for the Trenton titans, their best laid plans went awry when the bottom dropped out of the housing market and the United States hit its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

Now, since no one (or almost no one) is building any new houses, no affordable housing is going up. Talk about a case of bad timing. And who came up with the idea to throw an extra tax on people who develop commercial properties? It is another way to make it more difficult for businesses to operate in New Jersey. As Beck said, given the choice of where to locate,

a business owner would likely look for the friendliest environment, not one where building a business will cost even more.

New Jersey appeared to have an affordable housing system that was, to some extent, working. It has not been easy over the past 25 years to convince builders to construct affordable housing units at what they say is a loss. But some affordable housing units were getting built.

One regulation — now outlawed — permitted towns to transfer a portion of their affordable housing obligation to a community that wanted to rehabilitate substandard housing within its own borders.

We can debate the sociological impact of creating economic situations that do not allow certain people to live in certain towns all day long, but in the end, some people just cannot afford to live in a certain place.

That, as they used to say at Indiana University, is life in the Big Ten.

Someone came along with a plan to build a better affordable housing mousetrap and what did New Jersey get? A crappy new mousetrap that does not work. Good going.

Mark Rosman is the managing editor of the Tri-Town News. He may be reached at