To the Editor:
On November 24, Princeton’s Council and Planning Board revealed how Princeton plans to meet its Mount Laurel affordable-housing obligations. A Fair Share Housing advocate had already suggested we add 1163 new affordable-housing units through 2025, and a court-appointed consultant suggested 424. Alas, the plan presented chooses the lower number.
In fact, the plan includes only 339 housing units plus 107 “bonus credits” we’ve earned in the past. Of those 339 units, moreover, 154 have already been constructed, including 67 units at Harriet Bryant House, which opened in 2007. Another 120 units are already under construction, including 56 units at AvalonBay and 56 at the University’s Merwick/Stanworth housing.
The plan envisions only 85 genuinely new affordable units: 40 added to Princeton Community Village, 5 (a 20 percent set-aside) of 25 homes on the Franklin Street parking lot, 10 of 50 homes by the Princeton Shopping Center, and 30 of 150 residential units added to commercial buildings along Route 206 near Herrontown Road.
The plan seems less about adding affordable housing than about surviving judicial scrutiny. Those 339 units are “new” because they haven’t yet been counted in meeting Princeton’s Mount Laurel obligations. Meanwhile, of Princeton’s 9,328 actual households in 2013 (the last year I have figures for), 1,461 (15.7 percent) had incomes below $30,000, while another 1,537 (16.5 percent) had incomes between $30,000 and $60,000. This means that 2,998 Princeton households (32.2 percent) would have (depending on family size) been eligible for affordable housing in 2013. Unsurprisingly, our various affordable-housing authorities have a combined waiting list of some 1,600 distinct applicants. The average waiting time is one-and-a-half to three years.
One bright side of this dismal picture is that more land in Princeton (including lower Alexander Street and the Butler Tract) could also support affordable housing. And once Princeton meets its Mount Laurel obligations, it might be legal to offer any additional affordable housing to Princetonians first. Furthermore, we need not limit the number of affordable housing units on any site to 20 percent of the whole. If the land is sold to builders to develop, the town could offer zoning benefits in exchange for 50 percent affordable housing. Incentives like tax rebates, fast-track approval, lower parking requirements, and permission for greater density could all help shape future development to our benefit.
Finally, these sites need not be sold to for-profit developers. Council should allow the community time to raise funds so non-profit groups could develop some of the sites. Then 100 percent of the new housing could be affordable.
Surely many of us share the Princeton Community Master Plan’s stated goals: to “Provide Princeton’s fair share of affordable housing,” to “Promote, preserve, and enhance Princeton’s unique community life,” and to retain Princeton’s “diversity” in age, income, and ethnicity. As we age, our incomes may decrease. Affordable housing is crucial because, sooner or later, you and I may need it.
Anne Waldron Neumann