The revised COAH rules, which were adopted on June 2, force municipalities to build more affordable housing or have it built by developers in their towns. But this comes at a time when funds for affordable housing are dwindling. COAH's rules establish housing needs and guidelines for New Jersey towns through 2018. Statewide, COAH wants to see 115,000 new affordable housing units built by that year.
Towns throughout the state are up in arms over the recent developments. Little more than one month after COAH sharply increased the amount of affordable housing units that municipalities were required to create, Gov. Jon Corzine signed new legislation, known as A-500, that drastically reduces the amount of money commercial developers must pay in so-called "impact fees" to the towns. These fees are meant to offset the anticipated increase in services caused by new tenants, such as police and fire services.
Under A-500, which Corzine signed into law on July 17, not only are impact fees cut, but towns are barred from imposing other fees on developers to make up for the lost funds.
"Clearly I see this as an unfunded mandate that is only going to hurt municipal taxpayers," said Hopewell Township Committeeman David Sandahl, who worked closely with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and spearheaded the legal challenge to the new COAH rules. "If we're required to build more affordable housing, and at the same time prevented from raising money as we have in the past, that money is going to come from somewhere. And it's going to come from taxpayers."
The League filed its brief on July 15 with the Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court. Of the 236 New Jersey towns covered by COAH rules, more than 200 have signed on to the League's challenge.
According to supporting materials that the League submitted to the Appellate Court, "the implementation of the third-round regulations will result in negative and overwhelming financial burdens on the taxpayers in violation of the Fair Housing Act. [The law says that] nothing in the Act will require a municipality to raise or expend municipal revenue in order to provide low- and moderate-income housing."
To get an idea of how expensive affordable housing development can be, Secaucus Town Administrator David Drumeler pointed to a recent COAH grant that will be used for affordable housing development.
"If you go to the COAH web site, you'll see they have a big announcement about a $52.3 million grant for affordable housing," Drumeler said. "But then you see that money will only create 752 units of housing. That gives you some perspective how expensive it is to create affordable housing."
Joseph Doria, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, who oversees COAH, declined to answer specific questions regarding the League's legal challenge.
His spokesman, Chris Donnelly, instead directed the Reporter to a prepared statement from Doria.
In the statement, the commissioner said, "COAH will continue to move forward with the...rules...COAH's new rules maintain the growth share approach which bases affordable housing on market-rate residential and non-residential growth to fulfill a municipality's constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing."