Christie and COAH

In office 21 days, Governor Christie announced this week his Administration’s second major policy initiative.  The first was a series of regulatory reform and pay-to-play initiatives, enacted by Executive Order on Inauguration Day.

The latest initiative was a sweeping Executive Order that “guts” the Council of Affordable Housing, a key campaign pledge of the Governor last year.

The EO put a stop to the Corzine/Roberts “Round 3” COAH regulations, which hammered the final nail in the coffin of NJ’s struggling economy, when they were enacted in 2007 and 2008.

The Christie COAH Executive Order is significant in several respects.  First, on process grounds, it planted the strongest possible flag in the ground that the Christie Administration will not cede the policy-making initiative to the Legislature in crafting a new affordable housing statute.  Indeed the Legislature was hell-bent on moving a new COAH bill, even scheduling hearings before the new Governor took office.  I found it interesting that even some Republican Senators were assisting this effort, not even bothering to ascertain in advance the direction in which their own new Governor wanted to move.

It is ironic that the same legislators who did so much damage to our state’s economy be approving the current COAH scheme are racing to undo their own damage.  “You’ve done enough, thank you” comes to mind as one watches this particular spectacle.

If anyone doubted that the new Governor would have a strong say in the new legislation, this EO should remove those doubts.  The Task Force created by the EO is a sensible and intelligent process for the Administration to develop its own policy direction, in a thoughtful, deliberative way, while its attention is drawn to and diverted simultaneously by a wide array of state problems, including the looming budget crisis.

While the lead Senate sponsor told the Star-Ledger he wasn’t going to wait 90 days to move his legislation, it would be foolish and a waste of the Legislature’s time to do so while the Governor’s Task Force is deciding on the Administration’s direction.  The Governor, ultimately has the “conditional veto” power, and there is no observer in Trenton doubting the Governor’s willingness to use it when necessary.

The other aspect of this COAH EO that is significant is on policy grounds.  If you read the Order carefully, it appears that the Administration has begun to carefully stake out fresh new ground in the policy debate.

The question of “whether a municipality should have any further affordable housing obligation” is a polar opposite of the Round 3 concept of “growth share,” which obligates a municipality to provide additional affordable housing whenever there is ANY development investment in a community, regardless of existing conditions.  That the Task Force will even explore the question of when is enough enough, is a significant policy change.

Furthermore, the study will also focus on providing a “variety” of housing types, including workforce and rehabilitation of deteriorating housing, as more viable options.  Again, this is welcome change away from the concept of new, high-density, market residential inclusionary projects, eating open space and farmland, as the preferred method of meeting goals.

Last, the study will examine the effects of current and future state affordable housing policies on economic growth and open space and environmental protection.  It is another policy breakthrough that affordable housing policies will no longer be made in a silo, that they have implications on the state’s economic future, as well as it’s land preservation strategies.

This Administration is making a bold statement that these policies should be coordinated and integrated into a whole that makes sense.  

Sounds like common-sense, doesn’t it?