Affordable housing bill ekes out 21 votes in Senate

TRENTON – Amendments were being made to S1 seemingly moments before a Senate vote today.

State Sen. Ron Rice, Sr. (D-Newark) took his vote off the board as he spoke on the bill – surprising the Dems as they were counting on both hands – but they re-grouped mid-vote and pulled new state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) on the bill.

One of Gov. Chris Christie’s main reform topics, in its original form S1 would have overhauled the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) with a coalition of support, but state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) has been a determined architect focused on finding a constitutional and agreeable reform. The measure will greatly reduce the unattainable and hefty load of affordable housing requirements of municipalities..

The measure passed the Senate in June with strong bipartisan support, but amendments made after that lost Republicans in the Assembly.

Today, Lesniak’s amendment process took all Republicans off the board.

The bill was passed 21-16, and with one staunch D absent – state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) – another conflicted out – state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway), who is a land use attorney – and yet another on the fence – Greenstein – the Dems needed every vote at their disposal.

Lesniak has been very guarded of the amendments as negotiations continued into this week, and there was some hope from cross-aisle bill backers like state Sens. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) and Kip Bateman (R-Branchburg) that a bill both sides could agree on would emerge. It did not.

“If it passes, I will work with Gov. Christie to make sure it doesn’t become law,” Bateman said as the votes were about to be cast.

Even a fringe Democrat like Rice withdrew his support – not because he didn’t like the bill – but because the amendments were “fast-tracked,” never made available to him to digest before the vote.

Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said in an interview that he was the 21st vote, not Greenstein.

“I hope that the governor will support it,” he said.

Did he reach any agreement to assure the executive branch was onboard?

“No, absolutely none,” he said. “But we moved the bill.”

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak once again reiterated the governor’s opposition to anything but the original S1. Sources said a Christie veto is imminent.

“He’s making a mistake,” Lesnaik told PolitickerNJ. “The system will continue to be a chaotic unmanageable mess.”

He said his bill does everything the original S1 does, just in a different way. The builders, business leaders, and affordable housing advocates all agree, he said.

The Assembly may be voting on the bill, as well. 


Affordable housing bill ekes out 21 votes in Senate