Working for Smart Growth:
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Concentrating Poverty

October 8th, 2004 by

  • Although some half-million low- and moderate-income households across New Jersey need affordable housing, more than half (58 percent) of today’s affordable housing is disproportionately concentrated in only 20 municipalities.
  • These same municipalities also are assigned to receive more than half of the newly calculated municipal obligation for affordable housing, under new COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) methodology.
  • Achieving a more equitable distribution of affordable housing is further undermined by loopholes that allow some municipalities to displace part of their obligation onto others, through Regional Contribution Agreements.
  • As a result, re-proposed rules for affordable housing now under consideration will further concentrate poverty in New Jersey, while failing to create adequate affordable housing near jobs and good schools in the majority of communities statewide.


Just as important as accurately measuring the need for affordable housing is determining where that housing is most needed.

In its Mount Laurel decisions, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared that each municipality is responsible for providing its “fair share” of regional housing needs. COAH in its latest rules has abandoned the practice of redistributing regional affordable housing among all municipalities in a region, saying that “the Fair Housing Act does not specifically call for this component of affordable housing need.”

The result is that the largest affordable housing obligations are generally assigned to the same municipalities that already provide far more than their proportional share of the region’s affordable housing needs.

Regional Contribution Agreements offer a further retreat from fair share by allowing wealthier towns to buy their way out of up to half of their fair share obligation. Because RCA receivers tend to be poorer places already oversupplied with affordable housing, RCAs further concentrate poverty.

Growth share, a new concept in the latest rules, will help generate affordable housing in new places by requiring a given percentage of new housing be affordable, and that affordable housing be generated for every given number of new jobs generated by non-residential development in a community. Yet to truly foster a more equitable distribution of affordable housing, growth share percentages should be increased in communities with less than their proportional share, or reduced or waived for communities carrying more than their share.

A more effective affordable housing policy would determine municipal housing obligations in an equitable and fair way, reflecting a municipality’s existing share of the region’s housing and jobs, while crediting its existing supply of affordable housing and its existing population of lower-income households. It would create enough affordable housing near jobs and good schools to break up the concentration of poverty. And it would use varying growth share to address affordable housing needs in growing and built-out communities.

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