Focuses on Solutions
Few, if any, issues demand the attention and debate of the state’s housing policy. In light of the recent controversies over the COAH regulations and the State’s ongoing challenge to develop a sustainable housing policy, housing has been the key issue on the minds of municipal officials this year.
By Michael F. Cerra
NJLM Educational Foundation
This is why the League’s Educational Foundation chose housing as the topic for its signature 2009 event—the 2009 “Housing Summit” held on March 31, 2009
at the East Brunswick Hilton. The full-day program featured six different panel sessions on housing, and was highlighted by keynote speaker, the Honorable Michael Nutter, Mayor of the City of Philadelphia. Over 300 attendees took advantage of a wide range of breakout sessions, addressing the many challenges confronted by local governments in implementing a sustainable housing policy.
Louise Wilson, Mayor of Montgomery Township, League 2nd Vice President and President of the NJLM Foundation, set the tone for the day in her opening remarks:
People who get paid to think great thoughts and solve big problems say persuasively that when America emerges from this wrenching Great Recession, we will look out upon a new landscape, forever changed. We keep hearing that bad, bad times bring big, big opportunities. History shows examples. But today, in our world—in New Jersey—What are those opportunities? What will that landscape look like, and what needs to be done right now to position our communities and our state to ride the crest of the recovery wave?
One more thing before we begin—I would like to set a ground rule that hopefully will endure throughout the day. To the extent practicable, let’s try to steer clear of rehashing disputes about the COAH regulations.
I don’t mean to impede lively discussion and debate, or willfully ignore an 800-pound gorilla in the room. Obviously COAH, and the associated litigation over the 3rd round rules, is a topic that many of us think about and agonize over—more than is entirely healthy, to be perfectly frank.
The mission of the League’s Educational Foundation is to explore, discuss and promote solutions for some of the biggest challenges and problems we confront in New Jersey. Whatever the courts do with COAH, local governments will still grapple with issues related to growth, housing and affordability.
So, today we focus on these bigger, fundamental issues—trying not to view them through any particular lens, but with eyes on the horizon (squinting to make out that new landscape) and with minds open to new information and different perspectives.
Mayor Wilson then presided over a session featuring Dr. Jim Hughes, Dean of the Bloustein School at Rutgers; the Honorable Joseph Doria, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs; Marge Della Vecchia, Executive Director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; the Reverend DeForest “Buster” Soaries from the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Garden; and Peter Reinhart, Esq., General Counsel for K. Hovnanian Homes. This panel discussed the myriad of issues related to housing faced by policy makers, such as the concerns over financial markets and the state of the economy, state financing for housing programs, the COAH regulatory scheme, development strategies and the impacts of foreclosure.
Later that morning, Mayor Jun Choi of Edison, Vice President of the NJLM Foundation, presided over a session on special needs housing. Speakers on this panel included: Alison Recca-Ryan from the Corporation for Supportive Housing; Richard Brown from Monarch Housing; Krystal Odell of Allies, Inc.; Tim Doherty of Project Freedom; Yirgu Wolde from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; and Kevin Martone, Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Human Services.
Mayor Chris Bollwage, Mayor of Elizabeth and Past President of the League of Municipalities, presided over a session on workforce housing, featuring: Jerry Velazquez of Triad Associates; Beth Kitchen of Kitchen & Associates Architectural Services; Jeremy Sunkett of the Casino Redevelopment Authority; Angus Jennings of Concord Square Planning and Development (Massachusetts); Margaret Sowell of RES Advisors; and Peter Kasabach of New Jersey Future.
At the luncheon, the Honorable Michael Nutter of the City of Philadelphia spoke to a group of over 300 local officials, highlighting the challenges facing his city. What struck many in the room was how similar the challenges are on the other side of the Delaware. Mayor Nutter spoke of impending budget deficits, potential furloughs to address such deficit and the other challenges facing Philadelphia, including planning and housing.
Such a myriad of challenges may be larger in scope than what many New Jersey municipalities face, but the causes, effects and solutions are the often the same.
The afternoon breakout sessions focused on Abandoned Property Redevelopment, Foreclosures and a comprehensive discussion from a roundtable of experts.
Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington presided over the session on dealing with abandoned properties, featuring: Mayor Jim Maley of Collingswood; Tom Hastie, Esq. of McManimon & Scotland; Alan Mallach of the Brookings Institution; and John Kromer of the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.
Robert Bowser, Mayor of East Orange and Past President of the League, presided over the Foreclosure Mitigation session, including: Christiana Foglio of Community Investment Strategies; Frank Piazza, President of the Affordable Housing Professionals of New Jersey; Patrick Morrissey of Hands Inc. and Donna Turner of AHOME.
The final session of the day was a free-flowing discussion at the “Experts Roundtable.” Here Mayor Patricia Flannery of Bridgewater Township facilitated a conversation between policy makers and experts, including Shirley Bishop, a professional planner and former Executive Director of COAH; Lucy Vandenberg, the Executive Director of COAH; Ben Spinelli, the Executive Director of the Office of Smart Growth and former Mayor of Chester; Eileen Swan, Executive Director of the Highlands Council and former Mayor of Lebanon; Ed Schmierer, Esq. of Mason, Griffin & Pierson and League Associate Counsel; and Jacqueline Haley of Haley Partners, LLC.
The Board of the NJLM Educational Foundation expresses its sincere appreciation to Mayor Nutter and long-list of panelists who gave their time and expertise to these efforts. The Foundation will proceed with similar events in the future, striving to explore such complex issues in greater depth and hopefully provide solutions. Later this year, the Foundation plans to hold another forum at Rutgers-New Brunswick on the state of the economy. Details on this forum, and future Foundation efforts, will be posted on the Foundation’s website at www.njlmef.org.
NJLM Foundation is fairly new, having begun its work in late 2007 with the Mayors’ School Funding Committee focused on the revised school funding formula. In September 2008, the Foundation conducted a half-day educational conference entitled: The New Education Order. Partnering with the NJ Department of Education, the conference focused on providing municipal and educational leaders, as well as the general public, timely information on four key educational issues: School Funding, Preschool Expansion, School Construction and School Consolidation / CORE bill.
This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 6, June 2009