July 5, 2017

Princeton’s Affordable Housing Obligation Is Still Undecided as Talks Break Down

This past April, the town of Princeton announced it had reached a “settlement in principle” with the Fair Share Housing Center regarding how many affordable units the town is obligated to provide through 2025. But negotiations appear to have broken down. Fair Share Housing, which advocates for affordable housing in New Jersey, said in a statement last week that Princeton has “walked away” from the settlement.

“We are disappointed that Princeton is attempting to find a way to build fewer homes that working families, seniors, and people with disabilities can afford, by refusing to proceed with the settlement we reached with them in principle two months ago,” the statement reads. “These homes are desperately needed. Despite our willingness to abide by the terms both sides had agreed to, we will now have to resolve this matter through litigation.”

The town, which has been in court on the matter for the past two years, responded to the statement via municipal administrator Marc D. Dashield. “The court case has recently concluded and we are awaiting the judge’s decision, as well as maintaining ongoing settlement discussions with the Fair Share Housing Center,” he wrote in a press release last week. “Princeton’s mayor and Council are united in their desire to achieve a resolution and resume the important business of planning for future affordable housing that strengthens the community’s diversity, sustainability, and economy.”

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, according to Mr. Dashield’s statement. The final estimate from the court experts was 501.

One hundred twenty towns across the state have currently signed settlement agreements establishing obligations totaling more than 36,000 homes. According to Fair Share Housing’s executive director Kevin Walsh, Ewing, Hamilton, and Robbinsville reached pre-trial settlements, all of which are being implemented. In Ewing, the former General Motors site on Parkway Avenue is being redeveloped for affordable housing. Homes built by such local nonprofits as HomeFront are building in Hamilton, and Robbinsville’s Town Center will have affordable options.

Fair Share Housing also reports that Lawrence Township signed a settlement agreement establishing a 1,110-unit obligation. “That settlement provided for an innovative mix of development and redevelopment, including allowing for the redevelopment of some of the parking lots of Quakerbridge Mall and outmoded office parks in the Township, while preserving more rural areas of Lawrence,” the organization said in a statement.

East Windsor has approved a settlement establishing an obligation for 736 units, which will include designating several sites in the township for inclusionary development. “The municipality has also agreed to support a 100-percent affordable development and new supportive housing for people with disabilities while providing a special focus on very-low income families and people with disabilities — two populations that have been hardest hit by New Jersey’s ongoing housing affordability crisis,” Mr. Walsh said.