Senator’s bill proposes putting end to COAH

Towns would be authorized to plan for development of affordable housing


Abill that would abolish the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) has been introduced in the state Senate as S-1. The bill was introduced in a Senate session that was held after Gov. Chris Christie was inaugurated on Jan. 19.

Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) is the sponsor of the bill.

The issue of affordable housing has been a thorn in the side of many suburban communities for 25 years, since COAH was formed in the aftermath of the state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel housing decisions.

The court required municipalities to provide opportunities for the development of housing that would be sold or rented at below market rates to people whose income met regional guidelines established by COAH.

Ever since the mid 1980s, municipal officials have dealt with the requirements of the law and developers who have sought to build hundreds if not thousands of homes — not all of them affordable housing units — in a community.

The law proposed by Lesniak would abolish COAH and place affordable housing decisions in the hands of the municipalities. It would also wipe out unmet unaffordable housing obligations that have gone unmet for decades in some towns.

S-1 runs for 27 pages. A statement provided at the end of the package lays out what Lesniak is proposing:

The bill “reforms the state’s affordable housing laws. If enacted, this legislation would abolish COAH and would allow municipalities to administer their own affordable housing obligations. The bill would do away with state-imposed calculations of affordable housing need and would permit local governments to take charge of planning for opportunities for affordable housing. This bill charges the State Planning Commission with assisting municipalities in facilitating opportunities for affordable housing.

“If enacted, this legislation would abolish COAH and transfer any remaining authority of the council to the State Planning Commission …

“To transfer responsibility for affordable housing planning to municipalities, this legislation would amend the Municipal Land Use Law to make a housing element a mandatory part of a municipal master plan. In addition, to promote stability and predictability for municipal planning purposes, this bill amends the State Planning Act to provide that the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, like a municipal master plan, is readopted only every six years.

“In order to ease the pressure for municipalities to meet affordable housing goals, this bill would permit certain regional contribution agreements (RCAs) …

“In addition to authorizing municipalities to grant economic incentives to developers, this legislation would add additional language to section 11 of the Fair Housing Act, to emphasize that the rehabilitation of existing dwelling units and the employment of surplus state property are techniques which provide a realistic opportunity for the provision of low-income, moderate-income and workforce housing …

“Under the provisions of the bill, a proposed inclusionary development seeking a variance is deemed to be inherently beneficial, and thus to have satisfied the ‘positive’ criteria for a D variance pursuant to section 70 of the Municipal Land Use Law. The alternate variance procedure would not be available in a municipality that has adopted an ordinance determining compliance or has adopted a specific inclusionary zoning ordinance.

“Because of the current economic situation, this legislation also provides that developers can seek site-specific adjustments of set-asides based on economic feasibility…

“This bill also amends the Fair Housing Act to prevent the state from calculating prospective need, in line with the original Mount Laurel decision, which held that projected affordable housing ‘need’ numbers were not specifically required. This bill also forgives unmet housing need from prior rounds or periods in time before the effective date of the act.”