Another Link to Affordable Housing
By Peter Kasabach
Gov. Chris Christie sent an important message when he conditionally vetoed a bill to amend the state’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit law. It is a message that could help bring clarity to the debate over how New Jersey should go about ensuring housing opportunities for all residents, including those of low and moderate incomes.
In his conditional veto, Christie suggested reducing the requirement for low- and moderate-income homes in urban mixed-use projects, especially in cities that already have a substantial amount of such housing or where the market is not strong enough to support it.
Why is this important? Because it recognizes that our current approach to housing has resulted in concentrated poverty in urban areas, and has reduced opportunities for families with modest incomes to live near where they work.
The governor’s message is clear: We should not continue to concentrate poverty, and we should stimulate job growth in places where it can do the most good and be most efficient to taxpayers. Though we might quibble with some of the governor’s conditional veto language, we agree that the current concentration of poverty justifies requiring less lower-income housing in weak-market urban areas than in strong-market growth areas and job centers.
This message should carry forward to the larger debate about the state’s housing policy. New Jersey Future has long supported the need for a balanced housing market as an integral component of smart growth and economic development. Without it, families of modest incomes will be forced farther away from job opportunities, and communities will continue to be more economically segregated.
A revised state housing policy should meet the following criteria: •
- Generate an easily understood “fair share” of homes for low- and moderate-income families for each municipality. Towns need to understand what is expected of them so they can effectively plan for growth. Towns that already have a significant amount of housing affordable to lower-income households should not be treated the same as towns that don’t.
- Ensure such homes are built and integrated into the community. Planning for a balance of housing is not enough. The system must include carrots and sticks that ensure housing is actually built, rehabilitated or converted into homes that are affordable. A requirement that all new development include some percentage of homes affordable to low- and moderate-income households is a good place to start.
- Integrate with state planning. The current housing system has too little consideration for the State Development and Redevelopment Plan. State planning should be reinvigorated to direct where growth should happen and leave the affordable-housing system to determine how to integrate housing into these locations.
- Simplify implementation. The new system should be performance-based, so that it measures housing units a town actually has, not just how many it has planned. A performance-based system is much easier to monitor and requires fewer rules and less bureaucracy.
- Generate funding to subsidize affordable units. Not all housing affordable to residents of modest incomes should have to be built new. Rehabilitating existing units or “buying down” market units to affordable prices are good options that can be paid for by commercial and residential development, as well as additional sources.
To date, the Legislature’s approach to eliminating the Council on Affordable Housing and reforming state housing policy has come closer to achieving these goals than the governor’s, but the two sides have failed to find common ground on revisions that would make the system more efficient, effective and equitable. The governor’s conditional veto of the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit legislation, with its implicit rejection of concentrated poverty and misdirected growth, could be a step in the right direction, setting the stage for a reasoned discussion and responsible resolution of state housing policy, without the need for the courts to step in once again to ensure constitutional consistency.