May 24, 2023

Response from Princeton’s Mayor And Council to PCRD Proposal

To the Editor:

While we appreciate community input on this and every topic, we believe PCRD’s recent proposal is incompatible with how the vast majority of affordable housing in New Jersey is created, funded, and maintained — and would impose a considerable financial burden of tens of millions of dollars on the taxpayers of Princeton.

The proposal, for 100 percent affordable (i.e., municipally-sponsored) housing, would require the financial backing of the municipality, including millions of taxpayer funds to purchase the property, to construct the housing, and to provide tax subsidies over time. Further, the low unit count would make it uncompetitive for state financing, causing Princeton residents to make up significant funding shortfalls.

New Jersey’s Superior Court was already concerned about the financial risk borne by Princeton in the formulation of its third-round affordable housing compliance plan, due to the high number of municipally-sponsored  projects. With interest rate hikes and inflationary pressures on construction costs, Princeton is now spending millions more than originally anticipated on its 100 percent affordable housing projects.

While we welcome the opportunity to provide Princeton’s fair share of affordable housing, Princeton’s Mayor and Council are cognizant of the tremendous financial costs that municipally-sponsored projects have on our residents. Redevelopment of the TRW site with an inclusionary project of both market-rate and affordable units will facilitate the creation of affordable housing without a financial burden to Princeton’s taxpayers, and will enable the project to achieve other key community goals.

Namely, equity goals are advanced by the creation of an inclusionary project that enables residents of all income levels to live, play, work, and socialize together with well-documented individual and community benefits. 

PCRD’s letter also expresses concern about the detrimental impacts on the groundwater table, increases in stormwater runoff, and the loss of mature trees. In reality, the market-rate rents in an inclusionary project will enable the redeveloper to incorporate:

1. Robust stormwater mitigation systems. (The previously existing buildings were constructed prior to storm water management requirements.)

2. Enhanced green technologies such as a high performance, energy-efficient building envelope, solar panels, building electrification, green roofs, etc.

3. High quality design and architectural features integrating the new development aesthetically into the neighborhood and ensuring the beauty of this Gateway to Princeton.

The preservation of mature trees, especially street trees, will certainly be a priority for the municipal negotiating team.

Finally, in contrast to the financial burdens imposed by a municipally-sponsored project, an inclusionary project will convert a previously tax-exempt property into one that generates significant annual income for the town, helping offset Princeton homeowners’ tax burden.

We wholeheartedly agree that development of the TRW site can provide significantly more affordable and eco-friendly housing in Princeton and become a model to others in the process. We are committed to doing exactly that — in a responsible, thoughtful manner that advances the important policy goals laid out by the Municipality in its May 6 roundtable meeting. However, we believe it is unwise to ask taxpayers, including those who are less privileged and struggling to afford current property taxes, to bear the cost of developing a 100 percent affordable housing project at the request of a few residents in one of Princeton’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Princeton Mayor and Council
Witherspoon Street