"It defies logic to think that New Jersey needs fewer affordable homes now than it did before," said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, adding that COAH had projected 5,700 new homes were needed each year from 1987-1999, but now states only 1,700 new homes are needed a year over 25 years.
"COAH's proposal doesn't just turn back the clock on housing choices, it actually unplugs the clock, too," she said. The rules "would eliminate many of the mechanisms" communities have used in the past to create housing, including market-to-affordable programs, accessory apartments and permanent supportive housing for the homeless.
Joyce Campbell, representing Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Trenton, complained that while 35 percent of people in the state are renters, the rules do not require towns to provide any rental housing, meaning a community could choose to build only owned homes.
Gail Levinson, executive director of The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey, said it was "shocking" that rentals are not part of the rules. She also complained that the regulations omit incentives to create housing for people with special needs, as were given in prior rounds.
Several officials who work with municipalities gave mostly positive comments about the regulations.
"I think these rules, on the whole, were relatively thought out," said David Banisch, a planner. However, he criticized the rules for reducing the percentage of homes in a new development that would have to be affordable from 20 percent to 10 percent as being "burdensome to municipalities."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, also objected to that rule as being detrimental to the environment.
"Now for every affordable unit they get to build nine, which means they get to pocket more money and pave over more land," he said, after the hearing. Other provisions would further lead to a loss of open space, Tittel continued. "They mandate towns to zone for more development vs. meeting their obligations in other ways and target vacant and environmentally sensitive land while having no obligation for redevelopment and gentrification."
Thomas Carroll, an attorney with Hill Wallack who works on land use and Mount Laurel issues, said municipalities "love these rules" because their obligations are "very small."
Michael Cerra, of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said the group that represents 565 communities is still evaluating the regulations and will submit written comments before the August 1 deadline.
"The regulations affect each municipality in a slightly different way," he said. "At this point, we are still working through some recurring themes . . . It's complicated. We are still in the mode where we are hearing from our own members."
Carroll, who serves as the land-use counsel to the builders association, said that unless COAH revamps the regulations to model its former rules, as ordered by the Supreme Court, a court challenge is guaranteed. Fair Share already has filed a motion contending that the regulations do not meet the court mandate and asking the court to enforce its order.
COAH previously had adopted rules that based affordable housing obligations on future growth and the Supreme Court ultimately ordered the council to adopt new rules similar to the former ones it used through 1999. Although the court ordered that the new regulations be proposed by the end of February, COAH had not even met following the ruling and asked for an extension, pledging to publish proposed new regulations in the June 2 register.
"If you choose to be the Council on Affordable Housing, you should immediately vote to shelve these rules and do what the court ordered you to do," he said. Otherwise, he said, "all you will see is more litigation."
COAH will continue to take public comments on the rules through August 1. Comments can be submitted via email to email@example.com, with “Rule Comments” in the subject box; or via mail to NJ Council on Affordable Housing, PO Box 813, Trenton, NJ 08625-0813, Attn: Sean Thompson, Acting Executive Director; or via fax to 609-633-6056.