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High court begins consideration of executive order to banish COAH

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Further advancing a decades-long legal battle over the state's affordable housing requirements, New Jersey's top court today began its consideration of Chris Christie's power to dismantle the Council on Affordable Housing after the governor appealed a lower court's decision that invalidated his reorganization plan.

In June 2011, Christie placed state affordable housing policy under executive control by transferring COAH’s functions to the Department of Community Affairs. Once that executive order took effect, the Fair Share Housing Center immediately appealed it, and in March 2012, the Appellate Division decided Christie’s reorganization plan violated state law, reinstating COAH’s authority over municipalities’ low-income housing obligations.

“The governor’s role under the constitution is to enforce laws, not to make them,” Fair Share associate director Kevin Walsh said in a statement today. “The Appellate Division got it right. Christie does not have the power to unilaterally abolish independent agencies he doesn’t like.”

But in an e-mail immediately following the appellate court’s decision, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the administration’s reorganization plan “would not have become effective if the Legislature had exercised its right to invalidate the proposed plan during the 60-day legislative review period” — a distinction he said “refutes the narrative of unilateral action by the executive branch.”

“It is well known that there are many on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature who agree that COAH has been bad for New Jersey, with all its onerous and ineffective demands on municipalities and as a source of massive and costly litigation,” Drewniak said. “This is no more clear than in the Senate’s overwhelming and bipartisan support for affordable housing reform legislation that included the elimination of COAH.”

In June 2012, the state Supreme Court rejected Christie’s request for a stay of the appellate court’s decision, though it later agreed to review the ruling on the governor’s appeal; its hearing on the issue today launched that process.

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