New Jersey’s Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) recently updated the numbers of income-restricted homes that each municipality in the state must provide. For Princeton, the headline was simple: no new income-restricted homes are required. This is because Princeton has more income-restricted homes than many municipalities of equivalent size, and because there is little undeveloped land in Princeton (click here for full report). Princeton’s elected officials expressed concern at the COAH decision, as 2,000 people are on waiting lists for income-restricted housing in Princeton. But this reaction completely misses the point: COAH’s rules are not the most important thing determining housing affordability in Princeton.
The vast, vast majority of people- including low-income people- live in market-rate housing. The importance of the broader market explains why there is little affordability in Princeton, even though we have one of the best inventories of COAH-compatible housing in the state. Market housing in Princeton is very expensive because land use and zoning restrictions make it hard to add the smaller, less-expensive homes that are needed and in demand. Put simply, our zoning favors mini-mansions, when what we need are apartments and townhomes. Princeton’s municipal officials should reform their own zoning first, instead of grandstanding over COAH.
Where is the plan to help the 2,000 people who are on waiting lists for income-restricted housing? It seems very unlikely that the sites currently under consideration (the Franklin Avenue parking lot and the PFARS site) will house all those people. As such, Princeton Council’s dedication to affordable housing looks more like a dedication to a big waiting list for income-restricted units, and more often than not, a long unwanted car commute for many middle-class families who are priced out of town.
Income-restricted housing is essential to provide homes for the most-vulnerable, and deserves 100% support. But nothing in the new COAH rules prevents us from building more income-restricted housing. As such, bashing the draft rules because of their effect on Princeton seems absurd when our political leaders have failed to enact policies that would produce broader affordability. Other places, where there is no COAH, achieve much greater affordability. Princeton should look at what works elsewhere and put it into practice here too.
The Council On Affordable Housing is taking public comment on new rules for income-restricted housing in New Jersey until this coming Friday, August 1. (Instructions for leaving official comments available here). We will follow up tomorrow with further discussion about the sustainability impact of the ‘Third Round’ rules around Princeton. In the meantime, please leave your thoughts about COAH and the new rules below.