Princeton Mayor Mark Freda sparked consternation last week, after reports emerged regarding comments he made at a panel sponsored by the Mercer County Chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors. As reported by Barbara Peston for ‘The Montgomery News’ (Link: “Three Mayors Say NJ Affordable Housing Mandate Needs Oversight“), Mayor Freda was invited to get together with the mayors of Mongtomery Twp and West Windsor at the private Cherry Valley Country Club. The Mayor was reportedly sharply critical of the process that has led to construction of hundreds of new affordable homes in Princeton, saying “We have a lot of housing being built right now, and it’s been tough to balance what some judge in some court decides that your town should build…”
The “some judge in some court” that the Mayor referred to was retired Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson, who, in 2018, made a ruling to set affordable housing obligations for Princeton and West Windsor (Link: “NJ Court Determines How Many Affordable-Housing Units Needed by 2025“). The ruling came after a 41-day trial, and months of deliberations. Experts retained by the towns had argued for a lower affordable housing requirement, while Cherry Hill-based advocacy group ‘Fair Share Housing Center‘ had argued for more affordable housing. The case set a precedent throughout the state, and has led to hundreds of housing settlements where suburban municipalities have agreed to provide a share of needed affordable housing.
While noting that he was a “firm supporter” of affordable housing, and the town of Princeton has thousands of people on waiting lists for affordable housing, Mayor Freda also said that “The process is rigged to make developers richer than they already are.” He observed that many affordable homes were built as inclusionary units, making up 20% of a larger development, in which other units are made available at market-rate. The town of Princeton struck many such deals, and developers are currently working to advance mixed-income developments such as “The Alice” on Terhune Road, which will contain 25 affordable units and 100 market-rate units (Link: “Princeton Planning Board Approves 125-unit ‘The Alice’ Apartment Development On Terhune Road“.)
Not all of Princeton’s affordable homes will be developed as inclusionary projects. Princeton Community Housing is completing 25 new homes that are 100% affordable, as part of ‘Princeton Community Village’. Another 100% affordable development is approved for the old SAVE Animals site on Mt Lucas Road. All of these units will count toward the town’s affordable housing obligation. The trouble is that it’s very hard for towns to finance the hundreds of units of affordable housing that are needed, hence Princeton’s housing settlement included a mix of inclusionaty and 100% projects.
Although the Mayor seemed unhappy at the contributions of private developers to building affordable housing in Princeton, he saved his sharpest words for Fair Share Housing Center, how argued that the town ought to build more affordable housing. According to the report, Mayor Freda said, “to believe a group called Fair Share Housing — which is mostly funded by developers and builders — is somehow really representing the needs of people who need housing, is a farce.” Unsurprisingly, Fair Share Housing Center, who see their work as based in a civil rights tradition, were not impressed, and posted to Twitter that,
“It’s a very comfortable position for Princeton’s mayor – speaking at a country club in the middle of Black History Month – to pontificate about affordable housing while attacking the real world actions needed to preserve any racial diversity in town.”
If the Mayor disagrees with the concept of involving private developers for construction of affordable housing, that could influence Princeton’s new Master Plan. Planning Staff are currently working to re-write the Master Plan, which is intended to guide planning decisions around the town. Unfortunately, the old Princeton Master Plan did not provide anywhere near enough specific detail about how the town should meet its state-mandated affordable housing requirement. As a result, the affordable housing settlement was largely drawn up behind closed doors, with the public getting very little input until the agreement was basically done and dusted. The new Master Plan might provide better guidance about how to meet the next round of state affordable housing, which is due to start in 2025.
Story from ‘The Montgomery News’: “Three Mayors Say NJ Affordable Housing Mandate Needs Oversight“
I would be interested in any suggestions to best advocate for affordable housing in Princeton given the reluctance to embrace these changes as described in this article. I see the current or proposed affordable housing projects occurring in town to be a net positive for the community.
I would also like to hear the mayor articulate his perspective more thoroughly to better understood his reservations.
Please read the article in the Montgomery News to get a more balanced version of this story. Seems like the Mayors of West Windsor and Montgomery agree with Mayor Freda that the system favors developers and is not necessarily equitable to all parties involved. https://www.themontynews.org/single-post/three-mayors-say-nj-affordable-housing-mandate-needs-oversight
My favorite quote from the article: “Currently, West Windsor is in a lawsuit with a developer who wants to build affordable units with no windows. ‘That’s the kind of thing that is happening,’ Mayor Marathe said. ‘We are not against affordable housing, it’s just that affordable housing is being used as leverage to let [developers] do whatever they want. The NJ legislature has just dropped the ball.’”