The New Jersey Supreme Court today rebuffed Gov. Chris Christie's attempt to eliminate the Council on Affordable Housing.
In a 5-2 decision, the court said the governor doesn't have the authority to abolish an independent agency like COAH.
Housing advocates, including the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey and the Corporation for Supportive Housing, cheered the decision, saying the state has a shortage of affordable housing and needs an independent COAH to help fix the problem.
"New Jersey's most vulnerable and low-income residents will once again have an entity and process in place to implement the state's fair housing laws, including local affordable housing obligations, ensuring an array of choices to call home throughout the state," said Alison Recca-Ryan, director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.
The case dates to 2011, when the Legislature passed a Democrat-sponsored housing bill that included the elimination of COAH. Christie conditionally vetoed the measure, calling it insufficient, and instead issued a reorganization plan that eliminated the agency and transferred its duties to the Department of Community Affairs.
The move prompted a lawsuit, and last year a lower court ruled against the governor. Christie appealed to the state Supreme Court, but the high court today upheld the lower court ruling.
In a one-paragraph response, Christie called the decision an "activist opinion" that "arrogantly bolsters another of the failures" of the court.
"Both elected branches of government approved the plan to eliminate COAH," Christie said in his statement. "Not surprisingly, this liberal Supreme Court once again ignores that and continues to blindly perpetuate its failed social experiment in housing."
But Adam Gordon, an attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center, argued that the court's decision will lead to greater accountability.
"The Supreme Court's decision ensures greater public participation and transparency in important decisions on where homes get build," he said. "It's a bad idea for policies involving homes for working families, people with special needs and lower-income seniors to be made behind closed doors."
Reporter Jared Kaltwasser is @JaredKaltwasser on Twitter.