Sunday, August 26, 2007

Affordable housing shift blocked by court

from The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Tom Hester Jr.
Associated Press
TRENTON - A state appellate court yesterday ordered the state to reconsider a plan by a wealthy Monmouth County community to pay a poverty-laden nearby town to take on its affordable housing obligation, a decision hailed as crucial by affordable housing advocates.

The court ordered the state to reconsider a regional contribution agreement (RCA) it approved under which Colts Neck, N.J., was to pay Long Branch $2.83 million to repair and develop 107 homes for low-income residents.

Under a historic 1975 state Supreme Court ruling, each New Jersey municipality has a constitutional obligation to provide housing for poor residents.

The Fair Share Housing Center, which sued the state to annul the agreement, said the decision is the first time a court invalidated an RCA, under which suburban towns typically pay struggling cities to take their affordable housing requirements.

The decision doesn't prohibit other communities from entering into the agreements long criticized by housing advocates as unfair to the poor.

Rather, Adam Gordon, a Fair Share Housing Center attorney, said the court agreed with its argument the state improperly counted housing units in approving the agreement.

"No longer can towns evade the law through bogus RCAs that serve only to exclude working and middle-class families from New Jersey's most desirable towns," he said. "It is time for all of New Jersey towns to step up and do their fair share in providing opportunities so that all of our families can choose to live where they want."

Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees affordable housing, said the ruling wasn't significant. He said the court didn't invalidate RCAs nor speak to their merits.

Donnelly said the state will reconsider the agreement under new affordable housing tax rules currently being devised.

The decision comes with key legislators such as Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D., Camden) sponsoring proposals to ban RCAs. Roberts has said he expects housing policy to be a major focus when legislators return to action after November's elections.

In January, an appellate court invalidated the latest regulations used by the state to determine how many affordable homes each community must provide. The state continues working to devise a new plan.

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