Municipalities hit roadblock on affordable housing plans

Staff Writer

Dozens of towns throughout New Jersey experienced a setback in the quest for approval of local affordable housing plans when an expert retained collectively had to bow out.

Once it was clear the Rutgers University professor would not be able to complete his expert analysis of 224 municipalities’ affordable housing obligations due to a medical emergency, Rutgers University cancelled the contract, which included East Brunswick, Edison, South Brunswick, Freehold, Middletown, Oceanport and Rumson.

Under the Municipal Shared Services Defense Agreement (MSSDA), each town would cover $2,000 of the analysis costs.

“[The contract cancellation] left us in a difficult position and we acted very respon- sibly in response to that situation,” Jeffrey Surenian, attorney managing the consortium of towns, said. “We immediately tried to find another expert that could takeover and perform the task that we needed.

“We found an entity that we thought could do the job – that had the interest and ability to do the job — and we are in the process of negotiating a contract with that entity.” Surenian added he expects a final report to be completed and before the courts by the end of the year.

The firm, E-Consult Solutions, previously prepared a report on a fair share analysis performed by the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC). FSHC’s report, produced by Dr. David Kinsey, found a statewide need of more than 200,000 affordable housing credits from 2015 – 2025. That number rises to 350,000 when including backlogged obligations and rehabilitation.

Surenian called FSHC’s numbers “patently unrealistic,” citing the E-Consult report, which states, “The choices made by Dr. Kinsey in developing his methodology consistently and systematically result in an increase in calculated affordable housing obligations relative to other reasonable alternatives.”

However, FSHC stands by the need for the higher numbers.

Anthony Campisi, an FSHC spokesman, said the number determined in the Kinsey report does not translate directly to the number of units that would need to be built. He added that FSHC believes it is a fair and practicable target for towns to abide by.

“What’s important to realize is that this number doesn’t translate into that many units being built,” Campisi said. “There are a lot of ways the rules incentivize certain types of development for populations that are most in need by providing credits and bonuses to towns.

“So, for instance, certain types of rental housing or supportive housing for people with disabilities earn towns twice the number of credits or bonuses than the units that are built.”

Surenian disputed that point, arguing that the numbers were still untenable and actually impede the ability of municipalities to create tangible affordable housing.

“We’re really undermining our objectives by inflating these targets. We would all be better off adjusting them to reality,” Surenian said. “If you insist on numbers so high, you force municipalities to dig in and fight back.

“There is a line from Mount Laurel II that litigation doesn’t build housing.”

Surenian invoked a third report, prepared by Nassau Capital Advisers for the N. J. League of Municipalities. That report stated that a range of 18,000 – 25,000 units includes what is “achievable” and “optimistic,” for a total of 180,000 – 250,000 units in a ten-year period.

But according to Campisi, fair share analysis reports for the municipalities were due in the courts on Sept. 30 and FSHC felt that absent an alternative, these numbers should be used. “There’s no significant reason to delay the process,” Campisi said. “Let’s keep it on track and moving forward.

“It’s clear the old strategy was to delay for as long as possible. That just impacts low-income people across the state who need access to affordable housing.”

However, Michael Darcy, executive director of the League of Municipalities, said the deadline really depended on the court overseeing the affordable housing process.

“The whole purpose of this process is to give the towns the declaratory judgment time period to come up with plans and what they think should be their obligation,” Darcy said. “A town needs time to develop those numbers … to the extent that was sidelined, I’ve heard judges have said, ‘Yeah, I understand’ and others have just been silent.”

Surenian said there would be no report by Sept. 30.

“The courts have established deadlines that we can’t give them an expert report by,” he said. “We didn’t anticipate that our expert would have a stroke; if he didn’t have a stroke we would have had it no problem. We’re all urging the courts to adjust to the reality.”