Ongoing battle over control of affordable housing money

TRENTON – It’s been a game of ping pong for more than a year on the affordable housing trust funds issue.

The state has been trying to take over the unused municipal affordable housing funds, the most recent amount being more than $140 million, and use it for housing programs. It claims towns are just sitting on the money and thus it should be able to use the money for its intended purpose.

Lawmakers had sponsored legislation last year calling for the deadline to be extended by two years, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill shortly before the end of last fiscal year.

In his veto message, Christie said the money would be used for housing programs.

“Such programs shall include, but not be limited to, state programs for: rental assistance; homelessness prevention; residential services for individuals with developmental disabilities or mental illness, parolees and other individuals in the criminal justice system; shelter assistance; and emergency assistance for individuals and families facing homelessness,” the veto message said.

The administration pointed out a law was passed in 2008 by the Legislature, A500, that would let the local funds lapse to state control.

But groups like the League of Municipalities claim it’s not that the towns are twiddling their thumbs and letting their pile of green grow. It claims that towns haven’t received sufficient guidance from the state and with the Council on Affordable Housing mostly inert, they have been left in limbo.

That’s a difference of opinion. Chuck Richman, assistant commissioner with the Department of Community Affairs, told the Assembly Housing Committee last summer that housing policy starts within the individual towns.

“The burden rests with the municipalities,” he said. “That is the starting point.”

Of the $258 million the municipalities had collected, he said only $116 million was committed to projects. The remainder, $142 million, is what the state wants to gain control over.

The Appellate Division has tended to favor the municipalities’ position, as it did late Monday afternoon. The three-judge panel of the Superior Court issued an injunction that prohibits the state from taking control of the more than $140 million in affordable housing funds.

And, last August, Judge Mary Catherine Cuff ruled that while an injunction was not necessary, municipalities will have the ability to have a hearing before COAH regarding their affordable housing funds, which each town accumulates through developers’ fees.

Housing advocates considered the move a victory.

But after not having met for a long time, COAH met earlier this month to authorize the funds’ transfer.

Almost immediately, the Fair Share Housing Center issued a challenge, and once again, it was successful in preventing the state from gaining control of the $142 million.


Ongoing battle over control of affordable housing money