March 21, 2018

Affordable Housing Requirement To Be Topic of Closed Council Meeting

HONORED FOR YEARS OF SERVICE: After being named Employee of the Year by the New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association at their annual conference, Anthony Simone picked up a second honor at the Princeton Council meeting on March 12 for his work on Princeton’s seasonal maintenance team. Shown here with Mayor Liz Lempert, Simone was given an award of recognition for his work during the past 11 years — helping with snow removal, cutting grass, working in garden plots, and more. Simone grew up in Princeton and graduated from St. Paul’s School. “I love this town,” he said when accepting the award. “I work all summer, and I’m working this summer, too.”

By Anne Levin

At a closed session meeting this Friday morning, Princeton Council is scheduled to discuss the affordable housing requirement that was decided March 8 by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson. Princeton’s requirement was set at 753 units, while West Windsor received a requirement of 1,500. These numbers cover a span from 1999 to 2025.

The 217-page decision gives Princeton credit for affordable units that have been built since 1999. The issue dates from March 2015, when the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Council on Affordable Housing had failed to ensure that municipal affordable housing obligations throughout the state were set for the period from 1999 to 2025. Municipalities went to court to have their affordable housing obligations determined.

Four months later, Princeton filed a declaratory judgment with the court saying the town would provide 445 units. Fair Share Housing had determined the town’s obligation to be 1,495. The final estimate from the court experts at that time was 501.

But municipal officials say they can meet the 753-unit requirement set by Judge Jacobson. Mayor Liz Lempert and Council President Jenny Crumiller issued a statement in reaction to the ruling.

“We are glad that a decision has been reached so that we can focus our time and dollars into creating opportunities for more affordable housing. Princeton has long been committed to building affordable housing and this commitment shows in the fact that we have already made significant progress in meeting the obligation set by the court through projects such as AvalonBay, Merwick Stanworth, and others. The obligation number set by Judge Jacobsen is well within the range of what we were expecting, and we feel confident we will be able to present a plan to the court that meets that obligation, adds needed diversity, and energizes our local economy through smart growth planning.”

Affordable housing advocates called the ruling a victory for New Jersey families. “Judge Jacobson’s decision recognizes the very substantial need for homes for working families and people with disabilities in New Jersey,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, in a statement March 9. “This ruling sends a strong message to any town still seeking to exclude working families that they won’t succeed. While we are still examining the impact of this decision and disagree with some of the ruling, this decision is the latest development in a process that is laying the groundwork for tens of thousands of new homes to address New Jersey’s housing affordability crisis.”

At a Council meeting on March 12, Lempert said, “We are gratified to read in the press Fair Share Housing’s positive statements about Judge Jacobson’s ruling. We agree that the housing obligation number found for Princeton is reasonable. We look forward to moving on to the planning and building process as part of our continuing commitment to affordable housing. We are working on putting forward a sustainable, smart growth plan.”

Nearly 200 municipalities have reached settlements on affordable housing obligations. More than 100 have not yet settled. Those that have reached agreements include Hamilton, Hopewell, Ewing, Bridgewater, Mount Laurel, and Edison. Empty strip malls, industrial sites, and office parks are on target to be turned into new communities, according to Fair Share Housing.

“Shovels are already in the ground to build more homes for New Jersey families,” Walsh said in the statement. “Today’s decision demonstrates that towns which continue to resist the New Jersey Constitution’s fair housing requirements will not be rewarded for further obstruction and delay. We expect there will be more settlements but are prepared to go to trial again to ensure that every town in New Jersey is following the Constitution and putting plans in place that finally provide the homes that New Jersey families have been waiting for.”

Princeton and West Windsor have to provide compliance plans to the court in June. A compliance hearing will take place July 24.