Working for Smart Growth:
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An Interview with 2020 Cary Edwards Leadership Award Winner Peter Reinhart

November 9th, 2020 by

New Jersey Future is honoring Peter Reinhart this year for his decades of service and commitment to fair and affordable housing, for bridging real estate development and smart growth, and for his years of leadership on progressive land use policy throughout the state and with the New Jersey Future Board of Trustees. Join New Jersey Future for a virtual celebration of the 2020 Smart Growth Awards on December 15.

Q: You are known for your commitment to affordable housing. Can you speak about your work and how you became involved in this area? 

A: When I was in Rutgers Camden Law School in the early 1970’s, the first Mount Laurel decision came down and I was introduced to the long history of housing segregation and the efforts underway to reverse it.  In 1983, while I was serving as general counsel at K. Hovnanian Enterprises, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided Mount Laurel II, requiring municipalities to provide housing for low- and moderate-income families. The company made a smart business decision to seek out opportunities to build “inclusionary developments.” In my position, I was active in seeking out opportunities for these developments. I also became active in working on the legislation that became The Fair Housing Act in 1985 that moved responsibility for the affordable housing doctrine from the courts to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). In 1993, I was appointed by Governor James Florio to COAH, where I served until 2004. I was very involved in the nitty gritty of the Second Round Rules of COAH, but when the time came for the rules to be updated, Governor Jim McGreevey and his cabinet wanted to shift the Rules into a “growth share” model—a model that I felt did not promote affordable housing and was likely unconstitutional. I voted against the adoption and was subsequently not reappointed to COAH.Incidentally, my interpretation as to the constitutionality was ultimately proved to be correct by the New Jersey Supreme Court about 10 years later. 

Q: Your work over the years helped to bridge real estate development and smart growth. Can you talk about how you did that? 

A: I had been active in the New Jersey Builders Association as the representative for K. Hovnanian. I worked my way up the ladder becoming president in 1995. As president, I had a voice in helping shape the policy positions of the organization. During the 1990’s and 2000’s, the market for new housing was shifting from the traditional single-family detached housing in the suburbs to more dense, walkable places. I think my positions with K. Hovnanian and within the trade association enabled me to have a voice in the discussions shifting land use policies toward the “smart growth” approach. 


Q: What has shaped your commitment to progressive land use policy? 

A: In college, I was a political science major and always had a strong interest in public policy. Personally, it had never seemed right to me that so many people did not have access to decent housing, food, healthcare, etc. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with business and people making profits for what they have done. I believe that they are not mutually exclusive. Our society benefits if everyone is better off. And economically, everyone benefits if no one suffers. 


Q: What can you say about your role as a New Jersey Future Trustee and the organization over the years?  

A: I joined the  New Jersey Future Board in 2007 as a trustee. I had known a few of the founders of the organization and was impressed with the approach to having a balance of different interests on the board including developers, environmentalists, and government and non-profit leaders. It was not very common for an organization to explicitly seek such a balance. After I retired from K. Hovnanian to become the director of the Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University and a full-time professor, I was asked to become the chair of New Jersey Future’s Board of Trustees. It has been one of my favorite and most enjoyable volunteer positions. I was fortunate to have Pete Kasabach take over as Executive Director about the same time as I joined the Board. Together, we were able to help steer the organization through the 2010’s. We were fortunate that  public interest was growing in our issues of intelligent growth, smart land use policies, equity concerns, and balancing development and environmental interests. 


Q: What are some highlights from your time on New Jersey Future’s Board of Trustees?

A: When Superstorm Sandy struck on October 29, 2012, Pete Kasabach and I had a phone conversation the next day as to what role New Jersey Future could take. We decided to try to put together a major forum on what New Jersey should do in the wake of Sandy to help the state rebuild and to learn from the lessons of Sandy. We were able to pull together a major conference a month later at Monmouth University with very impressive speakers from around the nation. Over 500 people attended. I think that event helped elevate the importance of New Jersey Future in the public dialogue. 

The opportunity to help the organization become a leader in promoting safe drinking water has resulted in real change for so many in New Jersey. The work of Jersey Water Works in promoting solutions for water problems is having real lasting impact on this most basic and important need of the people. 

I am also proud of the staff and board’s emphasis on promoting the Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion initiative both within the organization and outside. Many organizations are recognizing that need and I think New Jersey Future is setting an excellent example in that regard. 

Our two major events, the annual Redevelopment Forum and the Smart Growth Awards, are now viewed as very important programs and bring together many hundreds of interested people and recognize well-planned projects that might otherwise not receive public accolades. Getting a Smart Growth Award from New Jersey Future is now considered quite an achievement and is widely promoted by the award winners.  

I am very proud of the staff and trustees for continuing to maintain the balance of interests within New Jersey Future that the founders created. In analyzing a potential position on an issue, New Jersey Future continues to insist on principled decision making and analysis without succumbing to partisan or other interests not consistent with our mission. I think New Jersey Future is held in high esteem by policy makers for this approach and consistency. 


Q:Is there anything you would like to add?

A: It has been one of my great honors to be involved with New Jersey Future. The members of the board are all highly recognized within their sphere and all bring a commitment to making New Jersey a much better place in the future. I come away from every meeting or event fully energized from the intellect and energy demonstrated. 

The primary mission of New Jersey Future has evolved over its more than thirty year history from promoting the State Plan to promoting policies that create a strong, diverse and fair state. But the vision of a strong future for the state has not changed. The dedication of the trustees and staff throughout have proved the original idea to be correct. I am confident that New Jersey Future will continue to be a leading voice for promoting a strong, fair, equitable, diverse state into the future for many years. 

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