Since the adoption of its “third round” regulations
by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), there has been a firestorm of controversy and debate over affordable housing. This is not surprising since the regulations are, to be kind, flawed and based on inaccurate data. This is compounded by inadequate funding sources, which forces our taxpayers to make up the difference.
The League took up the cause, and filed a legal challenge against the regulations. Soon, twenty-three other challenges were filed by a wide range of interested stakeholders. Our brief was filed in January. We expect oral arguments to be held soon.
Ultimately, either the Court or the State Legislature will have to address and cure COAH. But in doing so, let us recall what COAH was intended to do. COAH was created by the “Fair Housing Act” in 1985, and the purpose of the agency was to provide an administrative alternative to the Courts for municipalities. Before the Fair Housing Act, municipality after municipality was sued under the guise of a “builder’s remedy.” In many circumstances, the Courts ordered the construction of market rate housing, with a small set aside for housing for low and moderate income households. Unfortunately the reliance on the construction of market rate units to make developers “whole” contributed to sprawl. The outcry led to the Fair Housing Act, the creation of COAH and an administrative alternative for municipalities.
Fast forward twenty some years, and we can debate the historical success of COAH. But what we cannot debate is that COAH is now broken, and must be repaired. Some have called for the elimination of COAH; others for a constitutional amendment. To date, the League has focused on the litigation and a legislative solution, and not yet called for such measures. But as the Administration and the Legislature stall on comprehensive reform to the Fair Housing Act and COAH, we may all be approaching the time to call for such drastic measures.
As I travel the State and have spoken to so many of you, I have been struck by the commitment of our Mayors and locally elected officials to keep our communities affordable, and to provide housing in a sustainable way. I have also been struck by the utter frustration with COAH, in light of overwhelming evidence that the regulations are flawed and unsustainable.
The question is, at this watershed moment, who will join the League to advance a viable housing policy for the State.
Editorial from New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 86, Number 3, March 2009