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Lambertville wrestling with proposal to build 172 affordable housing units

lambertvilleThe Fair Share Housing Center of New Jersey has told Lambertville that it should allow the construction of 172 affordable housing units to help provide their fair share of the region’s need for affordable homes, and the city will respond with a plan calling for a “number they can live with,” according to a Lambertville official.

Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) is a public interest law firm founded in 1975 to defend the housing rights of New Jersey’s poor through enforcement of the Mount Laurel Doctrine, the landmark decision that prohibits economic discrimination through exclusionary zoning.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that municipalities must provide affordable homes for their poorest residents. In 1985, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Fair Housing Act, which created another group, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), to set up new rules and determine many homes each town would be obligated to build.

New Jersey Governor Christie has tried to dissolve COAH, and the Supreme Court in 2013 ordered COAH to write new rules that would increase the number of units required. COAH failed to meet court deadlines, and ultimately became deadlocked when attempting to agree on the new rules, which envisioned the addition of 110,000 affordable units over 10 years.

On March 10, 2015, the Supreme Court pronounced that COAH was not fulfilling its job, and ruled that lower courts should have jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis over how many homes should be made available to low- and moderate-income residents. Phone calls to COAH revealed a moribund organization in apparent disarray.

“Now, towns are drawing up housing plans, COAH is sidelined, and the courts are taking over COAH’s role,” observed Fair Share Housing Center spokesperson Anthony Campisi. “Towns are appealing to courts to show plans to avoid litigation and gain  protection from developers who may have sidestepped the local zoning board, offer some affordable housing as part of their plans, and are taking their issue to court.

“FSHC came up with new numbers, published those numbers, and decides where to litigate,” added Campisi. “This issue has gone on for 16 years, and housing needs to be built, and we want to see movement forward. Towns are drawing up plans, and we’ve been arguing in court that they should accept our numbers.”

Timothy Korzun, chairperson of Lambertville’s planning board, said, “The numbers are preliminary. The survey was done in a piecemeal way. It didn’t look at topography, geography, wetlands and other features, and the numbers are very much a work in progress.

“The courts are taking back the issue, and the city is trying to get it rectified with a number they can live with,” continued Korzun. “We were putting a plan together, and an expert consultant became ill, which could result in an extension past December for us to come back with our plan.”

Korzun stressed that Lambertville recognizes the importance of providing affordable housing, and has historically been home to blue collar families and those looking for starter homes.

“We’ve tried to stay ahead of this as much as we could — we’ve rehabilitated units, and we’re doing some more building of new units,” he said. “We’ve always been welcoming to affordable housing, but we can’t put houses on the sides of cliffs or on mud. We should get credit for what we’re already doing.”

Added Korzun, “We’re hopeful this issue is resolving itself, and we have a pretty good record behind us.”

FSHC’s Campisi was less sanguine. “We remain very concerned about delay, and that municipalities might try to water down their responsibilities, telling thousands of people with disabilities, seniors on fixed income, and working families that New Jersey is not a place you can live.”








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Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


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