Affordable housing decision looms

TRENTON – The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hand down a decision Thursday on one of the most anticipated cases in recent years: How to provide affordable housing in New Jersey.

The case, which dates to 2008 when the Council on Affordable Housing adopted its so-called “third round’’ rules, will have implications for thousands of low- and moderate-income residents as well as municipalities throughout the state.

On one side are the Christie administration, as well as agencies such as the N.J. League of Municipalities.

On the other are advocacy groups such as Fair Share Housing Center, Latino Action Network, religious and other organizations.

Although the ruling could be “nuanced,’’ – in other words, quite complicated – it might come down to one key issue, if oral arguments last year are an indication.

Are the Corzine administration rules – which called for 115,000 affordable housing units by 2018 – invalid because they rely on a methodology called “growth share.’’

Growth share essentially mandates a town provide affordable housing as new development occurs.

The rules as originally adopted by the state in 2008 set up a growth share formula that said that out of every five housing units, one had to be affordable housing.

Despite that, they have been on hold while the case has wound its way through the courts.

In all, 22 different appeals were filed, with the N.J. League of Municipalities one of the leading combatants in the matter.

The League argued, among other things, that the third-round rules relied on outdated data. In addition, the League argued that land that was unsuitable for development was going to be included when calculating a town’s affordable housing obligations.

In 2010, a lower court invalidated the COAH third-round rules, but the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the question of growth share.

Kevin Walsh of Fair Share Housing Center sees the battle in stark, almost class warfare, terms.

“Wealthier towns, given the chance, will say bring in the malls, bring in the office parks, but let someone else put in the housing for the people who work in those parks and malls,” he said.

Affordable housing decision looms