Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Christie discusses new low-income housing plan

Gov. Chris Christie has not been a champion of the state's existing affordable housing regime. The governor has moved to disband the state Council on Affordable Housing, planning to hand the council's responsibilities to the state Department of Community Affairs, allow towns more freedom to develop their own plans and, bizarrely, to take the nearly quarter of a billion dollars in housing trust fund money to balance his budget.

So housing advocates can be forgiven for being cautious in their response to his comments yesterday.
The proposal, outlined today by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, would change the way the state administers its annual $18 million federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a subsidy meant to encourage development of affordable rentals.

"My administration is committed to expanding housing options for our most vulnerable citizens as part of our long-term, comprehensive plan to combat homelessness," Christie said in a statement.

The agency did not release the language of the proposal, but said it would cap the cost of projects eligible for the credit, and limit construction of affordable housing in high poverty areas.

It would also award developers for building houses or apartments for families who are now homeless. Also under the plan, 40 percent of the tax credit awards would be granted in urban areas "to guarantee urban project development."
The big news, however, is the governor's stated intention to use the new rules to "give poor residents a better chance to live in towns with high performing schools."

According to a press release from the Department of Community Affairs,
The rule also proposes incentives to locate developments proximate to areas of high job growth and excellent schools.

“The changes will create opportunities for children to flourish in high achieving schools while greatly expanding parents’ ability to find employment proximate to their residence” explained Acting DCA Commissioner Richard E. Constable, III, who is Chair of the HMFA Board and Co-chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
If the new rules produce housing -- which is desperately needed -- and ensures that the housing is spread fairly throughout the state, as the governor says, then kudos to him and his administration. But given the history of affordable housing in the state -- i.e., political unwillingness to allow construction of low-income and even moderate-income housing in many towns through the use of exclusionary zoning -- I'm not particularly optimistic.


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