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COAH draws heat at public hearing on new proposal for affordable housing

Hosting its first and only public hearing on its latest set of proposed guidelines for local governments, the state Council on Affordable Housing on Wednesday drew heated criticism from affordable housing advocates who claim the new rules do little to serve their intended purpose.

“COAH’s proposal doesn’t just turn back the clock on housing choices; it actually unplugs the clock, too,” Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey President Staci Berger said.

Ordered last year by the state Supreme Court to come up with new affordable housing guidelines, COAH met April 30 and voted 5-1 to approve a new set of rules that call for roughly 110,000 affordable housing units to be added across the state over the next decade. That amount also takes into consideration previous affordable housing needs that have not been met.

But critics said Wednesday that the obligation has been reduced even further since then.

The April meeting was steeped in controversy as the vote took place just a day before the Supreme Court’s stated deadline for doing so and without any prior public input. NJ Spotlight also reported at the time that two council members claimed to have only received a copy of the proposed rules and methodology within the 24 hours prior to the vote.

Berger said that the so-called third-round rules, as proposed, actually amount to fewer new affordable housing units per year than were provided in the second-round rules, which expired in 1999.

“It defies logic to think that New Jersey needs fewer affordable homes now than it did before,” Berger said.

Thomas Carroll, a Princeton-based attorney with Hill Wallack, said that if COAH chooses to move forward with the new guidelines as written, it might want to consider changing its name to the “council for more litigation.”

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The Supreme Court, Carroll said, asked COAH to go back and come up with new rules that adhere to and are compliant with the methodologies set forth by the Fair Housing Act. That’s a feat the council has failed to achieve with its latest “municipality-friendly” effort, Carroll said.

“You have not done what the court ordered you to do,” Carroll said.

Kevin Walsh, associate director for the Fair Share Housing Center, led a heated exchange when he criticized COAH’s process for adopting new rules as one of the “least transparent” actions he’s ever seen from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which he added was “using this board for its political purposes.”

According to Walsh, the state’s projected obligation has been knocked down to some 40,000 units — from more than 110,000 —from when the new rules were voted on in late April to when they were later published in the New Jersey Register on June 2.

“You voted on one set of rules and published another,” Walsh said.

Though Walsh repeatedly pressed Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable to answer for the apparent change, Constable declined his invitation to comment.

“That is an outrage,” Walsh said to Constable. “That is government at its worst. You, sir, are responsible for that and you, sir, are covering that up.”

COAH board member Timothy Doherty added that he, too, was never told why the change to the buildable limit was made and was subsequently “offended.”

A spokeswoman for the DCA, which oversees COAH, encouraged the submission of comments and issued this statement in response to a request for comment on Constable’s behalf.

“Today the Council on Affordable Housing held a hearing on the proposed new Third Round rules to listen to comments and concerns from the public. This public hearing is part of a 60-day comment period, which began on June 2, 2014 and that will conclude on August 1, 2014. All of the comments received will be evaluated and responded to in the final adoption of the regulations.”

COAH will not hold any additional public hearings on the guidelines but encourages those wishing to comment to do so via email. Comments will be accepted through Aug. 1.


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