Torricelli on COAH

Everything that I admire and fear about the Democratic Party was on display this week. The compassion for creating affordable housing and the insensitivity to economic growth were both reflected in the new COAH rules.

New Jersey needs affordable housing. Young workers and people on modest incomes need a place to live and raise their families. We all agree.

The problem is the tragedy of unintended consequences. Previous policy allowed communities with a COAH obligation to send money to other communities with a need to build. It worked very well. Rural communities where we want to stop suburban sprawl would subsidize housing in Jersey City or Elizabeth. Affordable housing was built along mass transit corridors where services were available at more modest costs. Urban areas with sufficient affordable housing were exempt. A consequence of the exemption was that Trenton or Newark didn’t impose COAH fees on developers and they achieved a comparative advantage with suburban and rural areas for new development.

All of that is about to change. Rural communities might be forced to actually construct the housing rather than transfer funds to urban areas. The first result is a conflict with the state policy of stopping sprawl. The second would be the relocation of families of modest means to rural and suburban areas where automobiles are the only means of transport. Affordable food and services will all be $4 a gallon away. New fees would be extended to urban developers in some of the state’s most distressed cities. Urban developers, already plagued by aging infrastructure and limited parking, would lose their only advantage.

It gets worse. New COAH rules would be extended to nursing homes, hospitals and every new employer constructing a factory or warehouse. The world has turned upside down. The elderly in the final days of their lives will face not only mounting medical bills but absorb COAH fees to subsidize younger workers. Stagnating wages, which have created the inability of workers to afford housing, would be further impacted as new companies either avoid New Jersey or suppress wages to afford the fee.

Is anybody thinking this through?