State ignoring housing ruling, group says

Posted: December 18, 2013

TRENTON The state agency ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court to write rules governing the creation of affordable housing has not met since the order or taken any steps to comply, according to a legal motion filed by housing advocates.

The Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) has responded to the Supreme Court order with "outright defiance," according to the motion filed by Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit based in Cherry Hill.

The council has not met since the court's decision was issued Sept. 26 and will not meet its five-month deadline to produce new rules, according to Fair Share.

The housing center is asking that an outside authority be appointed to oversee the adoption of new regulations, which will determine the number of affordable units that municipalities must build.

"COAH's refusal to comply with a court order should not be tolerated," reads the motion, dated Friday and directed to a state appeals court. A copy of the filing was released Monday by Fair Share's associate director, Kevin Walsh.

Messages left with COAH were not returned Monday. The agency is part of the Department of Community Affairs; a department spokeswoman did not return a request for comment Monday.

A spokesman for Gov. Christie said he had no comment on Fair Share, directing a reporter to Christie's remarks at a Dec. 2 news conference deriding the housing center as "a hack group that I'm just not going to waste my time or my breath on."

The spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said he was "not interested" in addressing the assertions about COAH.

"If we are obliged to respond in court, we will in the normal course," he said.

Regulations governing the number of units municipalities must provide have been in place since the 1980s. The rules stem from the Supreme Court's landmark 1975 Mount Laurel decision, which said developing municipalities needed to make housing available to low- and moderate-income residents.

Christie has advocated for local control in housing decisions and sought to disband COAH - a move the state Supreme Court rejected. The Republican governor also has tried to move money from municipal affordable-housing trust funds to use for other purposes.

In its decision ordering COAH to issue rules to replace the current system - which tied municipalities' affordable-housing obligations to their rate of growth instead of regional need for housing - the state Supreme Court said action was needed.

"A remedy must be put in place to eliminate the limbo in which municipalities, New Jersey citizens, developers, and affordable housing interest groups have lived for too long," the court's decision says.

If the appeals court does not appoint a special master to oversee the production of new rules, Fair Share is asking for a transfer of authority for enforcing municipalities' affordable-housing obligations from COAH to the courts.

The housing center also is asking that COAH be required to submit biweekly reports if it has any role in making new rules.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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