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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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UPDATED: Senator Proposes Abolishing Council on Affordable Housing

 

By Jack Fichter

TRENTON — Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-20) introduced Bill S-1, Tuesday Jan. 22, which would make significant changes to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and abolish the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).
According to an alert to mayors and governing bodies published by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the Senate Economic Growth Committee, which Sen. Lesniak chairs, will take testimony on the bill on Monday, Feb. 1.
Lesniak said the bill will again be considered by the Committee on March 8. If approved by the Committee on March 8, the bill could be voted on by the full Senate as soon as March 22.
According to the state League of Municipalities, as introduced, S-1 would:
•Abolish COAH and assign any remaining administrative responsibilities to the State Planning Commission
•Eliminate the statewide calculation of need for unaffordable housing units
•Forgive prior round unmet need;
•Permit local governments to take charge of planning for opportunities for affordable housing.”
•Allow for certain Regional Contribution Agreements (RCAs) that were extinguished by PL 2008,c. 46 to go forward. RCA’s allow towns to make a contribution to another municipality to have affordable housing built there rather than in their own borders.
Locally, Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) told the Herald he thought the legislation was headed in the right direction regarding COAH. He said COAH’s requirements should be a framework that ensures that towns don’t have exclusionary zoning.
“You want to make sure that towns aren’t trying to forcibly keep out people of modest income,” said Van Drew.
He said he did not support a system that requires a number of mandates that are nearly impossible to attain. Van Drew said he believed COAH created a huge amount of bureaucracy and problems and tremendous cost to towns.
Current COAH requirements impede business and economic opportunity, increase taxes and hurt the average person, he said
.
The bill statement estimates that as many as 5,000 housing units could be constructed and that up to $116 million could be transferred to urban municipalities for rehabilitation and redevelopment.
The legislation would authorize a municipality to adopt an ordinance determining that it has provided for an appropriate variety and choice of housing and complied with the FairHousing Act, if it meets criteria to be determined by the State Planning Commission, according to the league alert.
If a municipality does not meet the criteria above, it is to pass an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires a 20% set-aside for low and moderate-income households and workforce housing.
The ordinance would require “indirect economic incentives” for builders, such as payments-in-lieu, units built or rehabilitated offsite or alternate design standards.
Additionally, a municipality and builder could jointly seek a site-specific reduction in the mandatory set-aside based on economic feasibility, according to the league alert.
If a municipality does not meet the criteria to be established and fails to adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance, a builder has the option to seek a “D” variance.
In those cases, the variance application would be assumed to meet the positive criteria and need only to meet the negative criteria. The variance process appears to replace the “builder’s remedy” as the primary enforcement mechanism.
To date, there is no Assembly companion but we the league anticipates an identical bill will be introduced in the General Assembly.

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