By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
By a 5-to-2 decision, the High Court ruled that COAH is an independent agency, even though it was set up to be “in but not of” the Department of Community Affairs, and therefore cannot be abolished by the governor alone.
That’s a victory for affordable housing advocates like the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
“The Council on Affordable Housing’s role is to approve community plans to develop homes people can afford. And because the governor abolished it, it’s been difficult for them to do that until they were reinstated by the court. Previously there’s been a lot of legal action back and forth up until the Supreme Court ruling today. So this is sort of a final word that the governor can’t unilaterally make that change,” said Staci Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
COAH grew out of the court’s landmark Mount Laurel rulings in the 1970s and 1980s that said every New Jersey town must provide a fair share of low- and moderate-income housing.
Over the years, Republicans and home-rule advocates have called COAH’s rules a bureaucratic labyrinth and a cause of suburban sprawl.
Gov. Chris Christie campaigned on doing away with COAH four years ago, and followed through on that in 2011.
Today, his office issued a statement saying, “Both elected branches of government approved the plan to eliminate COAH. Not surprisingly, this liberal Supreme Court once again ignores that and continues to blindly perpetuate its failed social experiment in housing. The Chief Justice’s activist opinion arrogantly bolsters another of the failures he and his colleagues have foisted on New Jersey taxpayers.”
The governor abolished COAH by issuing a reorganization plan that the Legislature could have blocked but didn’t.
The court held that’s not the same as getting the Legislature’s active approval.
“The judicial branch ruled that not opposing the governor is not the same thing as supporting the governor,” Berger said.
“I disagree with that,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana. “I think the governor was on sound ground making the decision to eliminate COAH, based upon the Reorganization Act and I just don’t agree with the court’s decision today. It’s just the insane policy that COAH has put out over the years. It’s not a rational policy for addressing the Supreme Court mandate and I think we need a whole new direction.”
Interestingly, the two permanent Republican justices — Helen Hoens and Anne Paterson — sided with the governor on this one. Democratic lawmakers generally hailed the ruling and pointed out that they sent Christie a bill abolishing COAH on their terms three years ago, and he vetoed it.