Last Friday, a three-judge panel said the state has the right to seize unused affordable housing funds money, but outlined strict procedures the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) must follow. The judges also gave the towns a chance to return to appellate court if they disagree with the council’s final decision. According to Janice Mironov, Mayor of East Windsor Township, the ruling affords towns due process so that they can respond to any seizure of funds. Mironov, who is also the President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that after two years of uncertainty, the ruling is welcome to towns who have been looking for guideline and parameters with regard to the COAH funds.
Mironov says towns have been hindered in carrying out the state-mandated affordable housing obligations due to a lack of clarity on how those funds are meant to be spent.
“The fact of the matter is that during this period of time, there have not been the regulations developed by COAH, there have not been approval of spending plans, there’s not been a regulatory definition of expend or commit to expend, so towns have been really in a catch-22. They’re being put at risk for of being penalized for not spending the money and the state did not step up in putting place the necessary guidelines to spend the money.”
The seizure of COAH funds is an issue that has significant consequences for property owners, she says.
“If the state were to be successful in seizing those funds, it would put the property taxpayer on the hook to have to pay for any state required affordable housing compliance,” said Mironov. “The money was deposited with towns by developers for the express purpose of assisting towns to pay for any state-imposed affordable housing obligations. Its a municipal trust fund and the trust is that it’s to be used for affordable housing programs. So certainly we hope that that trust is honored and that taxpayers are not slapped in the face and be on the hook to pay for these costs.”
Mironov adds that lawmakers and the Christie administration have imposed a double standard when it comes to giving municipalities time in meeting their affordable housing obligations.
“We’ve been in a very challenging economy over the recent years. It’s interesting that the legislature and the administration recognize that for developers, providing permitting extension act and multiple extensions of that … but when it came to extending that time frame for municipalities, the administration rejected it,” complained Mironov. “That’s not a logical approach to this entire matter. It’s really not fair at the end of the day to towns and it’s extremely unfair to taxpayers.”