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DCA commissioner pledges changes to affordable-housing system

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Less than a month after the Department of Community Affairs took full control over the functions of the Council on Affordable Housing, the agency's head told many of the state's builders Friday that changes to the system are under way.

Commissioner Lori Grifa told members of the New Jersey Builders Association that her agency was streamlining protocols that commonly stymied developers, professionals and municipal officials under the 25-year-old council. The department now allows those parties to make requests and applications in letter form, instead of having to file a motion with COAH and be subjected to long response times.

"Actions that languished for months, or even close to a year, will no longer have to do that," Grifa said at an event at Forsgate Country Club, in Monroe.

Moreover, she said, the "best and the brightest COAH people," including the Local Planning Services team, have been taken on by the DCA and now report directly to Grifa, she said. Those professionals will be made available to officials at the local level, allowing municipalities to avoid hiring private contractors for certain functions.

The DCA took over full control of all COAH functions last month as part of an executive reorganization plan by Gov. Chris Christie to abolish the 12-member council, which was created to carry out the Fair Housing Act of 1985 and several state Supreme Court rulings.

Grifa, who said she was frustrated by COAH as a private-sector attorney, told attendees the DCA is working to bring transparency and accountability to the state's efforts to create low- and moderate-income housing, something COAH had lacked in the past.

"There was really no way to move in that direction without a radical shift away from the bureaucracy and the institutional impediments created over the 25-year history of COAH," she said.

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