New Affordable Housing Proposals Mean New Obligations for Princeton
When New Jersey's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) announced earlier in the summer that it had prepared changes to its current policies ensuring more affordable housing, the state's 566 municipalities had reason to expect extensive discussions about how to implement the proposals.
For Princeton, that time has come.
Introduced in 2003, the "third round" policy involves a significant overhaul of COAH's current affordable housing policy, Mount Laurel II. Under these new proposals, one affordable unit must be provided for every eight market-rate residential units, and one affordable unit will be required for any new structure that creates 25 new jobs.
The proposals, published August 16 in the New Jersey register, are currently within a 60-day discussion period where municipalities can digest the plans and weigh their feasibility among various planning objectives.
The change in policy has stymied some towns, and poses a problem for the Princeton regional community, which has historically balanced its new housing with affordable housing.
The landmark shift in the proposed rules means there must now be a more direct accounting for what generates new affordable housing. In the past, communities were essentially given a prescribed number of affordable units to fulfill.
The new rules follow a so-called "growth share" approach that links that actual production of affordable housing with municipal development and growth. COAH's aim is to produce more affordable housing by stipulating that all growth-related construction should generate an obligation to provide low- to moderate-income residential units.
"The rules of the game are changing and we need to be aware of that and need to hit the ground running. The hit won't be as bad as it could be," said Lee Solow, planning director of the Princeton Regional Planning Board.
Municipalities, however, can still take part in Regional Contribution Agreements (RCA), which allow the transfer of up to half the obligation to any receiving area in need of affordable units.
"It doesn't always mean having to build new units, and we have over a year to develop the plan," Mr. Solow said.
He added that because there is a "good sense" of what sort of development Princeton is likely to see in the next several years, officials have an early start in mitigating the impact of the new state standards.
But if new development resulting in the creation of more jobs requires an affordable housing obligation, how would the rules impact institutions with plans for more building, like the University and, possibly, the hospital?
If the hospital were to stay in town and build an additional 50,000 square-feet on site, it would need to provide 10 affordable housing units if it decided not to arrange for an RCA. However, it could tie in its obligation with other housing institutions like Elm Court, which recently received the go-ahead to build 68 additional housing units and 46 parking spaces at the affordable housing facility on Elm Road, a 44 percent expansion.
Mr. Solow suggested that one way to adjust new housing obligations to new development would be to establish another facility like Elm Court in Princeton. The proposals should benefit communities, Mr. Solow said. "Before, somebody could come into town and build a 100,000 square-foot building with no affordable housing obligation signed to it, because that's not the way the rules went. Now they're changing that," he said.