Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 50
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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Regional Planning Board Reviews COAH Plan, Approves Amendment

Dilshanie Perera

Shirley Bishop and Elizabeth McKenzie, affordable housing consultants representing the Borough and Township respectively, came before the Regional Planning Board last Thursday to review the affordable housing plan that each municipality will submit to the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) on or before December 31.

Presented as an amendment to the Princeton Community Master Plan, the Housing Element and Appendix A regarding the Borough and Township’s Fair Share Resolution was approved unanimously by the Board.

Under COAH’s new requirements, all municipalities in the state have been given specific affordable housing obligations that must be met by 2018. Plans showing how they those goals will be met have to be submitted to COAH for review by the end of the year.

In presenting the Borough’s plan, Ms. Bishop noted that “when COAH came up with all of these numbers, the economy wasn’t in the state that it is now, so no one knows what’s really going to happen.”

According to the new COAH rules, Ms. Bishop said that the Borough has a 178-unit growthshare obligation, of which 45 units must be available for rental, 23 can be for families, and up to 44 may be age-restricted. Of the affordable housing built, 13 percent must be affordable to households whose incomes are 30 percent of median income. Additionally, 67 units are slated for the rehabilitation obligation, though 15 of those units are currently complete.

In a November meeting with Borough Council, Ms. Bishop noted that the municipality already has 134 eligible credits that may go toward the housing obligation, and thus is required to build or set aside 44 units. As for funding, she has calculated “zero balance and zero shortfall,” adding, “I have to tell you that you are one of the very lucky municipalities” in such a situation.

Speculating that the COAH regulations may “have to be redone again” since there are 24 lawsuits filed against them, and “the way the Roberts bill is being implemented is not the legislature’s intent,” Ms. Bishop said that the plan and implementation schedule have to be turned in to COAH anyway, lest the agency “dismiss the municipality from the COAH kingdom.”

In her remarks about the affordable housing obligation in the Township, Ms. McKenzie said that the municipality is required to rehabilitate 47 units, and build or set aside 168 units.

Proposing a collaboration between Princeton Community Housing and the Township to rehab older housing units, Ms. McKenzie characterized the strategy as the most cost-effective. She also reported that she is working with Township officials to draft a spending plan for affordable housing, “to try to determine what portion of the money spent would be coming out of the development account, versus the trust fund.”

Ms. McKenzie cited the history of Township, which has often “gone ahead and purchased affordable units that have come onto the market … to make sure that the units stay affordable.”

Former Borough mayor and current Planning Board member Marvin Reed called the work of the consultants “truly commendable” before the vote by the Board approving the amendment. The plans will be presented to Borough Council and Township Committee for approval before being submitted to COAH.

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