AFFORDABLE HOUSING/ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

The following article appeared in the Star Ledger newspaper on December 11, 2007.


Doria: Eco-rules should not block affordable housing
DEP seeking limits on developable land

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
BY TOM HESTER
Star-Ledger Staff

The state's housing chief and a key legislator said yesterday tougher environmental protection standards should be altered to help bolster New Jersey's affordable housing effort.

Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria told the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee that while 1.3 million acres of land in the state remains undeveloped, standards proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection would limit any future housing development to 300,000.

"That's a serious issue," Doria said. "Will we have the land to provide housing? We have to look at environmental regulations that impact on housing. This is an inter-departmental responsibility."

The housing-related DEP regulations include preventing construction within 300 feet of streams that feed reservoirs, upgrading quality standards for the waterway, and prohibiting the construction of sewer lines near pristine waterways or endangered species habitats.

Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union), the Housing and Local Government Committee chairman, said state environmental officials and activists need to be brought into the affordable housing effort.

"There are people in the environmental community who want New Jersey to become one big green acre," he said, referring to the state's open space preservation program. "We all have to work together and they have to become major players in the development of housing."

Elaine Makatura, a DEP spokeswoman, said Doria and other state officials should bring their concerns to the department before making it a public issue.
"For the DEP to be part of the equation and be part of the decision-making, they must work through the (DEP) commissioner's office and come in and sit down and discuss it and work with staff to determine what role the DEP will play," she said. "Developers are not happy with those kind of restrictions. Those restrictions were put in place (proposed) to protect environmental resources like water and habitat."

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), a prime co-sponsor of a proposed 12-bill affordable housing reform package, said he intends to introduce the measures when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 8. Doria said he expects to offer housing plans on behalf of Gov. Jon Corzine's administration in March.

Doria said he expects his proposals will include providing housing aid for working-class families. He said, for example, a family of four with an annual income of $80,000 would qualify for a form of affordable housing.

Roberts and Doria were part of a long line of officials and housing advocates who addressed the Housing and Local Government Committee. More than 130 people crowded the hearing room and state troopers had to clear the doorways and send spectators to an adjoining room where testimony was piped in.

In a related development, the state Council on Affordable Housing has asked a state appeals court to grant a six-month extension of a Dec. 31 deadline to finalize a formula for determining how much affordable housing suburban and rural towns must provide.

On Jan. 25, an appeals court tossed out the council's formula for determining how much affordable housing must be provided by suburban and rural towns. A three-judge panel declared that the rules discriminated against low- and moderate-income households with children. The court noted that the cost of providing schools spurs towns to limit housing for families.