Over the past several days, Gov. Christie took decisive action to weaken New Jersey's economy by vetoing three important legislative initiatives to revive our troubled housing market.
Take it from the head of the NJ Association of Realtors talking to NJBiz:
According to New Jersey Association of Realtors CEO Jarrod Grasso, foreclosed properties - which are now hitting New Jersey's residential real estate market at a record pace - "have been the albatross preventing true recovery in the state. . . . We're hopeful that, though the governor doesn't support this bill, that it will be called back to the table."
That was about the New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act (S-1566/A-2168), which was supported by housing advocates, municipalities, bankers, special needs groups, and developers, to name a few. It would have reused foreclosed properties to create much-needed housing affordable to lower-income households.
Christie also vetoed bipartisan legislation (S-2011/A-2950), which would have extended the deadline to spend over $200 million in municipal housing trust funds by two years, and budget language which would have provided a safe harbor for municipalities to commit these trust funds rather than having them taken by the state for use in the General Fund.
Assemblyman and Housing and Local Government Committee Chair Jerry Green issued a statement expressing his disappointment and frustration with the Governor's action stating, "The governor spent a good amount of time yesterday talking about helping the people of New Jersey. I'm not sure what segment of the population he was referring to, but it's certainly not the working class families of New Jersey. Under this administration, they are on their own."
The Legislature really stepped up to the plate in seeking solutions to New Jersey's housing crisis, in which foreclosure filings have climbed 86% in the past year and are at triple the national average. Longtime champions of fair housing among the Democratic majority such as Green, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg worked hard to craft innovative and important solutions to this economic problem, and deserve praise for bringing together a wide array of support to move New Jersey's housing market forward.
We also were glad to see leaders in the Governor's own party including Senators Diane Allen, Christopher Connors, and Robert Singer, Assembly members DiAnne Gove, Amy Handlin, and David Wolfe, and mayors from throughout the state recognize the need to take action to fix New Jersey's broken housing market.
After Christie's vetoes, we are left in an Orwellian situation in which the Christie Administration proposes to seize municipal affordable housing trust funds that are not "committed" by July 17, but refuses to define what "committed" means. No municipality or housing developer knows whether what they have done will suffice to save their funds from being taken - and we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars leveraging hundreds of millions more in investment in New Jersey in the near term.
Already, one court has enjoined the Christie Administration from taking any such money in the case of the municipality with the most money, Marlboro Township. Given that seizing funds without any rules on what can be done to prevent such seizure violates basic principles of due process, on July 2, 2012, Fair Share Housing Center filed an application to file an Emergent Motion to appeal COAH's failure to adopt trust fund commitment regulations, seeking an injunction against COAH taking any money from any municipal affordable housing trust funds until COAH has promulgated regulations as required by law and given all affected parties an opportunity to comply. In an example of the unusual alliances that the Governor's actions have created, the League of Municipalities has supported our application. The court is acting very quickly on this request - with briefs due over the next ten days and oral argument scheduled for Friday July 13 in Newark.
Sinking all three pieces of legislation with his veto, the product of six months of work by the Legislature's leadership and members of both parties, with the support of a broad swath of unlikely bedfellows from housing advocates to special needs groups to mayors of both parties to developers, Governor Christie made clear he does not see the benefits of creating more housing choices in a state that is one of the most expensive states in the nation to live in and that has one of the worst foreclosure problems in the country. It may be easy for Governor Christie to constantly say no, but it is not so easy for the hundreds of thousands of working families, seniors, and people with special needs in search of a decent place to live.