Bill would create a defense in housing suits

Staff Writer

JACKSON — Municipal officials have offered their support for a bill making its way through the state Senate that they say could protect Jackson in some litigation resulting from affordable housing requirements.

Senate bill S-2991, also known as A-4447 in the state Assembly, is reported to offer municipalities a defense in exclusionary zoning litigation.

According to Councilman Robert Nixon, existing affordable housing regulations are too restrictive on some municipalities. In the case of Jackson, he said, large portions of the municipality are environmentally protected and cannot be developed.

With that fact in mind, Nixon said, the township’s affordable housing responsibility is “excessive.”

“We need to have a more comprehensive policy on (affordable housing) that respects our individual housing needs,” he said. “Rather than having a one-size-fits-all policy … we need to have a policy that really reflects the needs of a municipality like Jackson.”

Other affordable housing stipulations, such as the need for a mass transit system and access to a strong job market, were additional sticking points for the Township Council, Nixon said.

“Jackson does not have a mass transit system and we do not have a plethora of jobs. We are a commuter town,” he said. “Our residents also do not want to live where there is a new development everywhere you turn your head.”

According to the Senate bill, a municipality would be able to establish an affirmative defense against exclusionary zoning litigation from a builder if it meets a number of prescribed criteria.

According to the bill, a municipality that wants to employ an affirmative defense would have to have at least 20 percent of its households meet the current definition of low income or moderate income housing. At least 7.5 percent of the housing would need to be “price-restricted units,” among other criteria.

Nixon said the bill would help Jackson, which he said has found itself in a “no man’s land” since the state Supreme Court determined New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing could no longer administer the state’s affordable housing program and shifted that responsibility to the courts.

“Considering the unfair burden the state has placed on Jackson as it relates to its affordable housing requirements … I think this is a very important thing that the Legislature has to tackle,” Nixon said.