TRENTON – The state’s top housing regulator continued to defend Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to seize affordable housing dollars, saying Thursday the roughly $154 million in unspent funds is “languishing” at the municipal level.
The Department of Community Affairs Commissioner, Richard Constable, defended the administration’s battle to sweep the unspent funds, arguing before Assembly lawmakers that the money is “just sitting there” and not being used for its intended purpose.
“It is a red herring and an inappropriate argument on the municipalities’ side [to say] that they had no idea what was going on,” said Constable, referring to a 2008 law signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine that directed local governments to spend the money or have it swept.
“If they don’t spend it or commit to spend it,” he said, “the money would be transferred.”
However, Assembly Democrats put Constable on the hot seat, arguing in light of the administration’s most recent “grab” at the unused funds that it’s disingenuous to say they are doing everything they can to ensure the funds go toward affordable housing.
“We’re taking the money [and] we’re not building affordable housing,” said Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, (D-32), chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. “Isn’t that the intent?”
Democrats were reacting to the Council on Affordable Housing’s recent vote earlier this month to sweep the funds. The council met May 1 to take the action after not meeting for more than two years.
Opponents decried the move as a backhanded attempt to sweep the funds they say are going to be used to build or renovate thousands of homes, including ones for low-income families and victims of Superstorm Sandy.
“We’re dealing with counties that were the hardest hit,” said Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15).
“Once we grab the money and it goes to the hole in the general fund, … we don’t get anywhere,” she said. “And now we have the greatest need for housing that we’ve had in a long time because of Sandy.”
Despite the criticism, Constable maintained local governments had more than adequate notice to spend the money, while continuing to point to the fact that Christie’s Democratic predecessor was the person who originally called for untapped dollars to be swept.