Affordable housing, according to 1st Ward Councilman Mike Grecco, means that some local residents might be able to afford to live in a luxury townhouse complex that otherwise would be out of their economic reach.
On the other hand, federally-subsidized low-income housing is often found in big cities and overseen by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
This is the distinction town officials are trying to make to the public in attempting to explain the development of 12 "affordable" housing units as part of the proposed Shiptank property townhouse development.
During the Aug. 27 Town Council meeting, citizens raised questions regarding the issue of the 12 units of affordable housing which Baker Industries has agreed to include as part of their proposed 212-unit residential development.
"The units proposed for the Shiptank property are not low-income, and they would not likely bring in anyone from out of town," Grecco said during an interview this week. "For the most part they would likely go to people already living here in Secaucus."
"Affordable housing reaches very large segment of our community, such as DPW and volunteer fire department and - quite frankly - a newly hired police officer," said Mayor Dennis Elwell.
Some critics have hinted that children who live in the affordable units would increase the number of students attending local schools.
"As far as children coming out of the affordable housing going to our schools, those kids are probably already in our schools," Elwell said.
The terms "affordable housing" and "low-income housing" created some anxiety and seemed unclear to some residents at the meeting. In addition, the state has issued updated regional guidelines for affordable housing income qualifications for this area. Recently, Michael Altilio, Section 8 coordinator for the Housing Authority and administrative assistant for the Affordable Housing Board and the Leased Housing Corporation, spoke to The Reporter to help readers and citizens better understand these issues.
What's the difference?
The Shiptank developers, due to state and local laws, are required to include a set number of "affordable housing" units in their project. That means that they have to offer these units to residents at a lower cost than normal, or pay a fee to the town. The residents will be able to apply for these units by applying to the town's Affordable Housing board.
Their income levels will have to fall under the maximum for "low-income" or "moderate-income" in order for them to qualify. However, the units are not federally-subsidized. They will not require federal vouchers or government subsidies to stay open. They are simply being offered at a lower rent or purchase price by the developers in order to cooperate with state guidelines.
This is different than the housing projects you might see in urban areas.
Affordable housing is still based on maximum income levels. To qualify for affordable housing, a family unit - this can be any number of one or more individuals - must not exceed the state-set, regional maximum limit for that size of a family unit. There are two levels at which a "family unit" may qualify - low-income and moderate-income. First preference is given to those applying for affordable housing who qualify at the lower income maximum levels, but this is not to be confused with Section 8 (a voucher program). "Section 8 or HUD subsidized low-income housing is a separate issue. There is a different set of [income] criteria," said Altilio.
The state's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) was created by the Fair Housing Act of 1985 as the State Legislature's response to a series of New Jersey Supreme Court cases known as the Mount Laurel decisions. The Supreme Court established a constitutional obligation for each of the 566 municipalities in the state to provide their fair share of low- and moderate-income housing, generally through land use and zoning powers.
In December of 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court directed COAH to determine criteria and then to review and approve the ordinances for municipalities. In Secaucus, the Town Council passed an ordinance in 1992 calling for the development of an Affordable Housing Board, but did not set up the board officially until 1995.
Under these laws, projects of certain size must contribute in some way to maintaining the level of affordable housing in a community. The Affordable Housing Board collects fees from commercial and other development for use in upgrading or establishing affordable housing in the community. New developments must set aside a number of units as affordable.
Baker Industries apparently had the option of either allowing the state to oversee whom the affordable housing units went to or allowing the units to be handled through the local Affordable Housing Board.
"If we did not have an Affordable Housing Board, the state would handle the units," Elwell said. "In that case, the units would be open to anyone in the state. As it is, we have a board and Baker has agreed to allow our board to handle the units. This means we can give preference to residents of Secaucus."
Secaucus Affordable Housing Board would have say
Altilio said it looks like the 12 units will be available for sale, but again, until the development is approved, nothing is confirmed. In addition, the developer may change the units to rentals.
The box at (right, left xxx) indicates the family size and the maximum gross income levels from all sources for both levels of qualification for affordable housing.
In addition, Altilio wanted to let the public know about the good work being done through low/no-interest loans that have been made to homeowners in Secaucus. Those are administered via the Affordable Housing Board.
"These loans aren't paid for with a dime of taxpayers' money," said Altilio. "The money all comes from fees developers must pay towards affordable housing. Up to $10,000 was available as a low or no interest loan to allow people to do major work that had the potential to be a major code violation - things like new roofs and heaters and windows. We've helped newly-marrieds and senior citizens."
"The really great thing about these loans is that if the homeowners are still in the property after 10 years, the loan is wiped out, and it becomes an out-and-out grant," he said.
As for the vouchers for Section 8 low-income rental housing, there's too much demand and not enough supply these days. Said Altilio, "Not many [towns] have vouchers left to give out. Our list is completely closed at this time. We have a waiting list, and we're trying to get more."