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Court could reverse Christie's affordable-housing block

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A state appeals court could decide by Tuesday to stop the Gov. Chris Christie administration from seizing up to $200 million from towns' funds to provide affordable housing, following a court hearing today that was brought on by a motion from housing advocates and the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Beginning July 17, the Christie administration intends to transfer any funds that have not been "committed to expenditure" by municipalities to the state's general budget under a 2008 law, but the Fair Share Housing Center argued in its brief that the state has not yet determined what the phrase means or how towns could prevent funds from being taken away.

"Today, we were able to show that (Christie) has given no guidance whatsoever to municipalities and developers for what they need to do," said Adam Gordon, an attorney for the advocate group on the case. "There are no standards whatsoever that define what needs to happen to move these projects forward.

One part of a bill sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) would have permitted municipalities to turn over their trust funds to a state commission that would transform foreclosed homes into affordable housing, but in Christie's veto message concerning the proposed legislation, the governor said the plan "would ladle on even more government spending," noting it would heavily rely on taxpayer dollars.

But supporters of the effort said if the funds were used for affordable housing, it would help expedite the foreclosure process and drive a faster recovery in the state's residential real estate market.

"Some of these funds were originally paid by people in the development community, and they felt they were paid for a specific purpose, which is to develop more housing," Gordon said. "These funds are connected to developments, and developers are relying on these funds. Developers are already involved in deals, and they want to make sure they're going forward, not being arbitrarily taken away by the state."

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