Court endorses 5-month deadline for reimposing affordable housing ‘third-round’ rules

TRENTON – The so-called “third round’’ affordable housing rules in New Jersey are at odds with the Fair Housing Act, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

But it added that needy residents can’t wait until a new approach is put in place, and it endorsed a lower court’s five-month deadline for reimposing those third-round obligations.

The state Supreme Court today ruled regarding the Corzine-era methodology for affordable housing obligations.

The ruling concerns the so-called “third-round’’ rules of the Council on Affordable Housing. The high court said that “the Third Round Rules are at odds with the FHA,” the Fair Housing Act.

The high court said that the state’s “growth share’’ methodology is essentially invalid.  Under that approach, towns provide affordable housing as new development occurs.

The court said that “The growth share methodology is so intertwined with the new regulatory scheme that it cannot be severed. The court’s conclusion requires a new adoption of regulations to govern the third round municipal obligations consistent with the strictures of the FHA.

“New rules cannot wait further while time is lost during deliberations on a new affordable housing approach. A remedy must be put in place to eliminate the limbo in which municipalities, New Jersey citizens, developers, and affordable housing interest groups have lived for too long.

“Accordingly, the Court endorses the Appellate Division’s five-month deadline for reimposing third-round obligations based on the previous rounds’ method of allocating fair share obligations among municipalities.

“The Court notes the remedy is the remedial formula adopted by COAH, consistent with the FHA, and one even COAH agrees can be implemented quickly.”

The ruling was written by Justice Jaynee Lavecchia, joined by Justices Barry Albin and Ariel Rodriguez.  A dissenting opinion was filed by Justices Helen Hoens and Anne Patterson. Two other justices did not take part in the case.

The decision affirms and modifies the lower court ruling.

When the third-round rules were adopted in 2008, the goal was 115,000 affordable housing units by 2018.

The N.J. League of Municipalities and others sued, arguing that the data relied upon was outdated and unfairly included undevelopable property when calculating a town’s affordable housing obligations.

The affordable housing battles date to 1975 when the state’s Supreme Court issued its Mount Laurel decision that declared local land use laws that bar affordable housing for the poor are unconstitutional.

The court further ordered at that time that municipalities must take affirmative action to provide their fair share of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

Court endorses 5-month deadline for reimposing affordable housing ‘third-round’ rules