Wednesday, December 12, 2007
BY TOM HESTER
Trying to confront New Jersey's shortage of affordable housing, the state is preparing regulations that would require that one in every five new houses or apartments be affordable for people who range from low-income to middle-class.
It means developers would have to erect more affordable housing and suburban and rural towns would have to accept it. The ratio was one in every eight houses and apartments, until a state appeals court in January tossed out the rules as discriminatory against low- income families. The rules were set by the state Council on Affordable Housing.
Under the new regulations, if a developer, for example, gains approval to erect 100 houses in wealthy Tewksbury in Hunterdon County, 20 of them must be affordable. If a developer constructs a 200-unit apartment building in Newark's reviving Penn Station neighborhood, 40 must be affordable. COAH is expected to give preliminary approval to the new regulations Monday.
State Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria told a meeting of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey in Trenton yesterday that the regulations contain new financial advantages and allow developers to build more units per acre, which hopefully will encourage a mix of affordable housing with market-rate units.
"The new regulations will create a major incentive for developers to build on site," he said. "We will have economically integrated communities and, hopefully, racially."
Doria said much of the money to finance Gov. Jon Corzine's plan to erect 100,000 affordable units in 10 years will come from $168 million in builder fees that municipalities have been collecting and basically sitting on for as long as a decade.
The new regulations would give municipalities two years to develop a plan to use their affordable hous ing money and another two years to actually put up the housing. If a town does not meet the deadline, it will risk having the state confiscate the money and use it to build hous ing elsewhere.
Doria said that threat should spur towns to allow affordable housing within their borders. "If you don't spend it, you lose it," he said. "They will need to commit to using it within two years and spend it within four."
"The state does not have the funding to get this done alone," Doria said. "I can assure you the publication of the new rules next week will be a major step forward."
Doria said eligibility standards to qualify for affordable housing will be increased to include, for example, a family of four earning $83,000 annually, and a family mak ing as little as $17,000 a year.
The Legislature is moving to eliminate so-called regional contribution agreements that allow wealthy suburban and rural towns to sell their affordable housing obli gations to urban centers. However, Doria said that until the issue is decided, COAH's new rules will call for a contribution of $70,000 per unit from municipalities, up from $35,000.
The regulations also will cut back drastically on so-called hous ing filtering, the ability of towns to reduce their affordable housing ob ligations by claiming lower-income residents were finding affordable units vacated by other residents who had moved up to more expensive housing. Before the court tossed out COAH's regulations, council officials had calculated that filtering had provided 59,156 affordable units between 1989 and 2005. A consultant who helped prepare the new regulations found the number to be 26,744.
Doria said the task force he has developing affordable housing proposals will have to offer a plan for the Corzine administration by late March.
"We must create a housing policy for all of the state, for all of the people," he said. "We do that and I guarantee we will have affordable housing."
Once given preliminary approval by COAH, the rules will be open to public input and possible changes. They would become official June 2.