Senator misses key points on affordable housing

Guest Column • Joseph Doria

In response to state Sen. Jennifer Beck’s latest unfounded attack on the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), (“Gov.’s Affordable Housing Law is Destructive to New Jersey,” Tri- Town News, Feb. 19), I felt it was necessary to reply and correct the various inaccuracies stated in her editorial.

Last October, she, along with her colleagues in the 12th Legislative District, erroneously claimed that Monmouth Battlefield was included as buildable land under COAH’s regulations. COAH staff corrected them on this issue, but to our knowledge, they never issued a correction of their false claims.

Regarding this latest editorial, Sen. Beck continues to show a lack of understanding of the COAH process. She states that the “Corzine affordable housing law mandates that for every 16 jobs that are created by commercial development, one affordable housing unit must be built.”

First and foremost, this is not a mandate. COAH is a voluntary process and no municipality must take part. Secondly, the regulation she cites is not part of the affordable housing legislation enacted last July by the governor. It was part of new rules and regulations COAH enacted as a result of the court’s January 2007 ruling.

The senator then states that we “will be the only state in the nation that penalizes job creation” and that the housing law (which again, is not part of legislation, but COAH regulations) “does not reduce the obligation for jobs recently lost.” COAH’s regulations do not penalize job growth.

When jobs are created in New Jersey, those filling these positions need and deserve an affordable place to live. I find it hard to believe that the senator is advocating the creation of jobs on one hand, while at the same time discouraging those individuals receiving these jobs from finding a place to live.

Additionally, COAH’s regulations are based on a growth share method. Growth share means that municipalities would only build affordable housing in relation to the actual growth that occurs in terms of market-rate housing and commercial development. Therefore, if job creation is not occurring at the rate predicted by COAH, municipalities are not obligated to build affordable housing. Growth share is at the core of how COAH works. It is disturbing that the senator does not understand this most basic principle which would allay any fears she has about COAH not adjusting to employment figures.

The Rutgers University study cited in her editorial dealt only with the use of data that might be potentially available in the future. This data could not have been used to enact COAH third-round regulations because the court mandated that COAH use the most recent statewide data available.

Additionally, COAH allows for municipalities to present local data and will work with them accordingly if adjustments are needed. In a letter I sent to the senator on Oct. 6, 2008, this fact was made abundantly clear, yet Sen. Beck continues to ignore it without explanation.

Moreover, Sen. Beck is making an illinformed and outright incorrect statement when she says that Red Bank would have to build 3,360 market-rate units and that Marlboro would have to build five times their affordable housing obligation number of 1,700 units. This is completely false.

Growth share says that for every four market units of housing built, one affordable unit must be provided. The reverse, however, is simply not true.

If a municipality builds 20 affordable units, they are not required to also build 80 market-rate units. The obligation is triggered by market-rate growth; affordable housing does not drive the growth. Additionally, it must again be noted that a municipality is only responsible for building affordable housing when they have built market-rate housing and commercial development.

Lastly, while we agree that changes need to be made to the 2.5 percent fee, given today’s economic climate, it must be noted that 10 of the 16 municipalities in Sen. Beck’s district have over $23 million sitting in their affordable housing trust funds. This includes over $13 million for Marlboro alone. We would be greatly encouraged if the senator, instead of issuing factually inaccurate editorials, encouraged these municipalities to use these funds to provide affordable housing.

Time and again I have made it known that any member of the Legislature who may not have an understanding of COAH is welcome to meet with me on this topic. Sen. Beck has not accepted this invitation, but I still welcome the opportunity to discuss COAH with her and correct many of the misconceptions she has. I also hope she will work with us to promote, as opposed to hinder, affordable housing efforts in the state. As the senator says, “affordable housing is necessary.” On that point, I couldn’t agree with her more.

Joseph Doria is the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The Council on Affordable Housing is an affiliate of the DCA.