Court sides with towns over housing funds’ takeover

Towns have won a round in their battle to keep the state from taking control of affordable housing trust funds.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court today enjoined the Christie administration from taking municipal housing trust funds, ruling that the administration does not have the authority to take more than $142 million in municipal housing trust funds without convening the independent board of the Council on Affordable Housing.

The state’s takeover of the funds was scheduled to start on Monday. The state sent letters to municipalities detailing how they planned to commit their unspent funds, which are accumulated over the years through collection of developers’ fees.

“The authorization for such a turnover must come from the COAH Board,” the court said. “The COAH board, as it must now be constituted to comply with our March 8, 2012 judgment, has not met and has not authorized the demand imposed on the municipalities by the letters sent at the direction of the Acting Executive Director of COAH on July 24, 2012.

“Accordingly, the Active Executive Director and COAH staff are hereby enjoined from seeking a turnover from any municipality of affordable housing trust funds, and any funds that have been turned over shall be returned to the municipality forthwith,” the court ruled.

At least one group was pleased with the court’s decision  

“The governor has overstepped his proper role again,” said Kevin D. Walsh, an attorney with Fair Share Housing Center.  “The law entrusts the independent COAH Board with the power to implement the Fair Housing Act.  The governor is not a king.  He has to comply with the laws on the books. 

“We have worked with municipalities and other advocates to push back against the administration’s unfair raid on municipal trust funds.  The issue will now be decided in public by a vote of the independent board rather than behind closed doors and under the direction of the governor.”

Comment from the Christie Administration was not immediately available.

Court sides with towns over housing funds’ takeover