July 22, 2020

Urging Princeton Residents to Support Remaining Affordable Housing Ordinances

To the Editor:

It is difficult to overstate the current affordable housing crisis within our nation, state, and local community. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates a supply of 36 affordable units for every 100 extremely low-income renting households in the country, an issue that disproportionately affects our non-white and particularly our Black neighbors. In New Jersey, that number falls to 29 out of 100. In Princeton alone, there is a waitlist of nearly 2,000 households in need of affordable housing as of November 2019. About one-third of all of our households are cost-burdened and nearly 17 percent of our renters are severely cost-burdened.

Research clearly shows that we face this massive shortage of affordable housing because of structural factors like stagnating wages and declining federal support for affordable housing, but also because of local decisions – namely, exclusionary zoning and needless foot-dragging with development. Some residents are frustrated with the settlement process, but it seems to be the only tool left to shake municipalities out of the complacency of decades of underdevelopment. Furthermore, it is meaningless to profess support for affordable housing, but then protest every detail of any feasible affordable housing plan. Whatever the intent, the result is more delay and less housing. Ultimately, concerns about obstructed views and neighborhood character pale in comparison to the fact that nearly 2,000 households in our community are in need of affordable housing and cannot currently secure it.

To the concern that residents of affordable units place strain on public resources, namely, streets and schools, let us not forget the resources that homeowners consume. Homeowners are more likely to commute by car than renters. Moreover, the cherished tax subsidies for homeownership – mortgage interest deductions and the like – cost taxpayers $400 billion over 5 years. In comparison, we spend $72 billion on rental housing over 5 years. In other words, tax benefits for homeowners cost six times what we spend on rental housing. And renters are taxpayers, too. They pay property taxes indirectly through rent. So while it’s appropriate to consider and plan for potential increases in student populations resulting from affordable housing construction, it’s not appropriate to use this as an excuse not to make our community more livable. That essentially amounts to more opportunity hoarding.

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that these are issues beyond, not within the boundaries of Princeton. Many, many municipalities make the same mistake, creating a free-rider problem that has contributed to our country’s sorry lack of affordable housing. We are better than this and we have the chance to be an example for other municipalities in the state and the country by enacting the remaining affordable housing ordinances on July 27th. We urge all Princeton residents to support these ordinances. They promote the kind of mixed-income, smart growth policies that all municipalities should embrace. But beyond that, we should remember that each additional unit represents a household, a family, a neighbor. We aren’t just building units – we’re building community.

Matt Mleczko
Lemonick Court

Maria Juega
Grover Avenue