All across New Jersey, elected officials are dealing with an urgent question: how much affordable housing should they plan for? Earlier this year, the New Jersey Supreme Court told local courts to rule on whether towns are adding their ‘fair share’ of housing. The judgement potentially clears the way for builders to overturn zoning ordinances in towns that have not added enough homes. If towns knew how much housing they had to build, they could plan accordingly, and protect themselves. But they don’t know what their ‘fair share’ is, and as a consequence are in a risky situation. This might be an ideal moment for the New Jersey League of Municipalities to step in. But two reports issued this week by the League, both on the subject of affordable housing, sidestep the question of how much affordable housing towns should plan for.
The League aims to serve and provide information to local officials (Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert is on their Executive Board). The first of the reports they issued this week, from Princeton-based Nassau Capital Advisors, LLC, evaluates the potential of inclusionary zoning to provide affordable housing. The report considers current demographic trends, and discusses several estimates of state housing need, but pointedly avoids making a recommendation on how much housing is required. The second report is a critical analysis of estimates for mucicipal housing requirements that were developed by David Kinsey for Fair Share Housing Center earlier this year. Neither report aims to provide guidance on housing needs at the state level, or at the level of individual municipalities, even though over 150 NJ towns are struggling to find a consultant to do this work.
We asked Mike Cerra, assistant Executive Director at the NJ League of Municipalities for his take on why the League wasn’t publishing any numbers. He said,
“It’s not the purview of the League to be issuing numbers. Any numbers that we put forward would only be an opinion. What we aim to do is to make tools available to local municipalities so that they can develop and support their own estimates for housing commitments”.
With no consensus on how much housing to build, a protracted series of convoluted legal battles seems inevitable, which will further delay construction of affordable housing. The League might have helped bring the process to a quicker conclusion by suggesting numbers for affordable housing units using a formula that they consider reasonable. Instead, they seem to be providing ammo for NJ towns to try to resist efforts to add affordable housing. Courts around New Jersey will begin evaluating municipal housing plans later this year.