Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
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Affordable Housing: New State Rules Could Cost Borough

Dilshanie Perera

The Borough must submit a plan to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) by December 31 detailing how it expects to meet its affordable housing obligation of 178 units by 2018. If it does not, “COAH has legal authority to come in and take away residential and non-residential development funds,” warned the Borough’s Affordable Housing consultant Shirley Bishop during last Tuesday’s council meeting. According to Mayor Mildred Trotman, close to a million dollars in such funds have been collected since 2004.

Ms. Bishop was referring to the new rules imposed by COAH, which is the state-run agency that manages the provision of low and moderate income housing obligations in municipalities in New Jersey.

Under the rules, which were adopted in March and amended by a bill introduced in July, COAH requires municipalities to provide more low and moderate income affordable housing in proportions based on future growth. One out of every five market rate units built must be affordable, and an affordable unit must be created for every 16 new jobs that are created within the Borough, according to Ms. Bishop.

The same rules also state that municipalities can only charge a development fee of one percent of the assessed value of new residential construction, and 2.5 percent on new non-residential construction.

Chair of the Borough’s Affordable Housing Board David Schrayer said in a phone interview that the increased obligation and the restriction on development fees make it difficult to actually create new affordable housing. “There are no funding mechanisms in place. The state has some loan pools that are accessible to these kinds of projects, but there aren’t enough subsidies and money to make them economically feasible, even if you did have free land,” he noted.

During the meeting, Borough Council member Roger Martindell commented that “we all support affordable housing not only as a philosophical matter, but also practically,” but the problem is that “the COAH regulations actually discourage affordable housing because it makes it too expensive.”

If the Borough chooses to opt out of COAH entirely, it may be subject to an exclusionary zoning lawsuit, which could take away the power of the Council to regulate development within the Borough.

Submitting a plan “is the most cost-effective way for the Borough to proceed,” said Borough Attorney Karen Cayci, adding that the proposed plan “won’t prevent the pursuit of additional affordable housing initiatives” or future amendments to the plan itself.

Among the entities associated with affordable housing within the Borough and Township, the Princeton Housing Authority (HABOP) owns and manages 236 family and senior and disabled apartments while Princeton Community Housing (PCH) manages 463 units. The Borough also has an Affordable Housing Program geared toward sale, resale, rent, and rehabilitation, and the Township’s Department of Affordable Housing focuses on properties for sale and rent.

During the September 2 Borough meeting, Council member David Goldfarb cited the “internecine rivalries” of the past regarding senior housing, and noted that it is effectively managed by a single agency now. “We need to apply the same pressure to push affordable housing that got senior programming so well managed by the Senior Resource Center,” he mused.

Though HABOP, PCH, and the Affordable Housing Program and Department have “different internal missions,” Mr. Schrayer remarked that “how the different agencies can merge their application process” to improve the delivery of resources and housing to applicants is an ongoing subject of discussion.

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