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Tough Questions and Candid Replies
New DCA Commissioner Joseph V. Doria, Jr.
Speaks Out on Housing Issues,
Eminent Domain and More
Joseph V. Doria

Dr. Doria graciously agreed to answer the following questions for NJM’s readers. The questions were developed by our Legislative Staff.

QuestionFor so small a state, New Jersey is incredibly diverse—from the Highlands to the Pinelands, from the Route One Corridor to the shore, from urban cities to the suburbs to rural townships and boroughs. DCA was created to assist all of these diverse communities so that they can better serve their citizens. Is there any one thing, or set of things, that you can do, as DCA Commissioner, to advance the Department’s mission?

AnswerHaving seen the complex issues that face the state from both the local point of view and as a state legislator, I have a unique perspective from which to approach DCA’s effectiveness. I trust that the wealth of experience and knowledge I have gained in the Legislature and the relationships that I built in the many years I have served there will be helpful not just to advance DCA’s mission, but to foster better coordination and responsiveness among all of us who are entrusted with making public policy.

QuestionThe recent Kelo decision has sparked a nationwide debate over the use of eminent domain as part of economic development. As a highly urbanized state, no one disputes that New Jersey’s cities and older suburbs need tools to promote economic revitalization and redevelopment, but some question the ability to take property as part of these efforts. What role do you believe eminent domain should play in our state’s efforts to reinvent itself?

The elements of the built environment have physical life cycles just as those that occur in nature. In order to perpetuate a healthy community, the built environment must be periodically rejuvenated. The Court in the Mulberry Street Property Owner’s case against Newark said that, “the City should be entitled to utilize the tools of redevelopment” but that “the constitutional requirement of blight is not met where the sole basis for the redevelopment is that the property is ‘not fully productive.” Eminent domain should not be perceived as, nor should it ever amount to, an abuse of government power. Respect for property rights must be a paramount concern but eminent domain actions that comport with the constitutional definition of blight should remain a viable option for large land assembly when it is vital to the general public welfare. I expect that alternatives to eminent domain will now be explored. There are other avenues and wise policy makers and officials will seek them out.

QuestionThe Appellate Division recently struck down portions of COAH’s “growth share regulations” and just over 200 municipalities who have submitted their affordable housing plans await a December 31 deadline for the agency to pass new regulations to address the issues raised by the Court. Will growth share survive, and more importantly, should it?

The Court found that the concept of growth share is constitutional. However, it found COAH’s approach inadequate in several areas; first, the rules/methodology need to eliminate the possibility that municipalities can lower their affordable housing obligation by limiting municipal growth; and second that COAH needs to demonstrate that there is sufficient vacant developable land to meet the housing need within growth areas. Under growth share, every housing development and non-residential development receiving a certificate of occupancy will generate a municipal responsibility to provide affordable housing. This is a transparent and easily understandable method of planning and accounting for a town’s fair share obligation. I hope that it will survive. COAH engaged some of the nation’s most well regarded real estate economists to validate the accuracy of the population and employment forecasts that support the statewide and municipal affordable housing need numbers and to verify that the forecasted growth can be accommodated in areas where it is desirable.Joseph Doria sitting at desk

QuestionLocal governments have now engaged through three rounds of “cross-acceptance” in development of the State Plan. Yet conflicts among state agencies have seemingly slowed the process and have many at the local level questioning the state’s commitment to the State Plan. What respective roles should local and the state government have in the critical land use decisions that will shape our future and what should be the role of the State Plan?

We are the nation’s most densely populated state and we will continue to grow. We have a wealth of natural resources that our population relies upon to sustain us and maintain the great quality of life New Jersey’s residents enjoy. As you noted earlier, New Jersey is an incredibly diverse state and that diversity is the source of our dynamic economy. The State Planning Act was passed in recognition that the state’s assets could be compromised for future generations if we did not collectively agree, at the state, regional and local levels, to the same goals. I read the State Plan in preparation for my new job at DCA, and I came across a section that describes the role of the Plan and illustrates the complexity of the process. It says that (the Plan) “relies upon the sense of responsibility and conscience of New Jersey’s public and private sectors at the state and local levels to understand and embrace a coherent plan for New Jersey’s future.” The Planning Act did not set out a hierarchy of clear priorities to follow when drafting the Plan. So there are bound to be some conflicting policies that must be settled among state agencies. The success of the plan depends upon the level of leadership, commitment and collaboration of all the relevant public agencies at all levels of government, the private sector and residents as well. That is no easy feat. But as you said, there are critical land use decisions to be made and we can’t leave the shape of our future to chance. We, at DCA, are committed to realizing a coherent plan that represents the shared interests that were articulated and honed during the cross acceptance process.

QuestionThe recent “Local Unit Alignment, Regionalization and Consolidation Commission” law requires the Local Finance Board to promulgate “performance measures to promote cost savings in the delivery of services by municipal governments.” Municipalities will, then, be required to submit an annual performance report to the Board and the DCA will need to develop a “municipal report card” based on those reports. As a former mayor, how do you think this process will play out?

As a former mayor, I know how much harder it is to run a town than it may seem to the taxpaying public. I also think that residents are entitled to know how their local government stacks up as long as it is an objective standard of measurement. As Commissioner of DCA, I am authorized to finance the development of these performance measures and training modules using funds from the SHARE programs. The law requires DCA to promulgate rules by April 15, 2008, followed by a first year implementation (which requires training of local officials). After the first year of implementation, the existing aid program is to be used as a reward for municipalities that meet the standards. Finally, within two years of adopting the rules, the Local Finance Board must develop a municipal report card that the state will post on its website. In the coming months, we will invite experts in municipal performance from New Jersey and all over the country to advise us on how to develop performance standards and measurement and reporting practices. If bringing in a consultant is appropriate, we will do so. It is my intention to be as broad reaching and inclusive as practical in terms of where we go for input.

QuestionLegislation has been introduced by Assembly Speaker Roberts to ban the use of “regional contribution agreements” (RCA) to satisfy a portion of a municipality’s housing obligation. While many urban areas use this funding to build housing and revitalize neighborhoods, some criticize RCAs for promoting economic inequalities between our suburbs and cities, and for concentrating poverty in urban areas. What is the future of regional contribution agreements?

Regional Contribution Agreements were created by the 1985 state Fair Housing Act, and permit municipalities to transfer up to 50 percent of their affordable housing obligations to another municipality within the housing region. Since that time, over 10,000 units have been transferred through RCAs, for a total of $210 million. COAH’s adopted 2004 third round rules established the RCA minimum at $35,000 per unit. As COAH undertakes revisions to its third round rules, consideration is being given to adjusting the per unit cost to more accurately reflect the blended cost of rehabilitating a unit and constructing a new affordable unit, both of which are permitted under the RCA program. The question that must be considered before deciding the fate of RCAs is what source of funds would replace the millions that are now building all those needed units.

QuestionAs a professor and college administrator, as a school board member and chair, as a state legislator and legislative leader and, for the last 10 years, as a mayor, what perspectives and experiences do you bring to your new job that will shape the way you lead DCA? Has, and if so, how has your opinion of municipal government changed over the years? Has, and if so, how has your opinion of the role of DCA changed?

Given my background as an educator, it should come as no surprise that I value discourse and “give and take.” The years that I have spent in politics have taught me to be a strong and persuasive advocate willing to fight for my position, although I prefer diplomacy and compromise to confrontation. I am not inclined to make promises that I can’t keep. I have read that I am easygoing. I think that is reasonably accurate. My disposition is a good match for a Department like Community Affairs. Over the years it has been my sense that the institutional culture there welcomed, even invited, debate both within the agency and from outside constituencies in the development of policy. So far I have not been disappointed.

Joe Doria: A Life of Public Service

Joseph V. Doria, Jr. was mayor of Bayonne from 1998 to 2007. His tenure was marked by reduced crime, stable taxes, and improved delivery of municipal services. Under his leadership New Jersey Monthly magazine called Bayonne one of the best cities in New Jersey in which to live, ranking it first in public safety and school quality.

Doria also served in the State Senate for nine years and in the New Jersey Assembly for nearly a quarter century, being first elected in 1979. He sponsored more than 225 pieces of legislation that have been signed into law. He has authored major legislation in the areas of education, consumer protection, healthcare and transportation. He also wrote New Jersey’s Lemon Law. Doria chaired both the Education and Higher Education Committees in the Assembly.

Doria was elected Speaker of the Assembly for the 1990-1991 session and served as Minority Leader from 1992 to 2002. When he left the Legislature in 2004, he had been the longest currently serving member of the New Jersey General Assembly and the longest serving Democratic leader in the Assembly in recent history.

Doria graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Peter’s College with majors in History, English and French. He holds a Master’s Degree in American Studies from Boston College and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Education Administration from Columbia University.

From 1969 to the late 1980s, Doria taught history and education as well as graduate courses at Saint Peter’s College. He also served as an administrator.

Elected to the Bayonne Board of Education in 1975, Doria served as Board Presdient from 1976 until 1979. He was President of the Hudson County School Boards Association from 1978 to 1979.

Involved in numerous community activities, Doria has received over 200 awards and citations form both public and private groups.

 


Joe Doria has joined the ranks of 13 previous DCA Commissioners (excluding Acting Commissioners): Paul Ylvisaker (1967-1970), Edmund Hume (1970-1971), Lawrence “Pat” Kramer (1971-1974), Patricia Sheehan (1974-1978), Joseph LeFante (1978-1982), John Renna (1982-1985), Leonard Coleman (1986-1988), Anthony Villane (1988-1990), Melvin Primas (1990-1992), Stephanie Bush (1992-1994), Harriet Derman (1994-1996), Jane Kenny (1996-2001), and Susan Bass Levin (2002-2007).

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is a state agency created to provide administrative guidance, financial support and technical assistance to local governments, community development organizations, businesses, and individuals to improve the quality of life in New Jersey.

 

 

 

 

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