Appellate for Division: Christie Administration Stopped from Seizing Affordable Housing Trust Funds

On June 7, 2013, the New Jersey Appellate Division created a process the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) must follow before Gov. Chris Christie's administration can seize up to $165 million dollars in affordable housing trust funds needed to recover from Hurricane Sandy. As stated by NJ Chapter NAACP president, in his recent op-ed published for the Star Ledger, "At this time of extreme need, it is unbelievable the Christie Administration is attempting to seize these funds and stop the development of new homes." Over the past few months, plans to build over 3,000 homes for victims of Sandy — people with special needs and working families — have been in limbo due to the Christie administration's aggressive and unlawful attempt to take this money. Over 50 percent of these funds were also designated to homes in the nine counties hit hardest by the storm.

The Appellate Division's decision stemmed from an injunction they issued at the request of the Fair Share Housing Center on May 13, 2013, in which Center indicated that the administration's raid violated state regulations because of their failure to provide municipalities notice and the opportunity to correct any deficiencies. The Christie administration further argued it had the authority to take the money under their twisted interpretation of a landmark housing reform law that the Center, the NAACP and other civil rights groups fought in 2008. The New Jersey Legislature has consistently disagreed with this interpretation of the law, noting that the law was "intended to facilitate local production of housing" — not block homes from being built. Earlier this month, the NJ Supreme Court also rejected Christie's request to lift the original injunction imposed by the Appellate Division.

In response to COAH's failure to follow basic notions of due process, the court created a procedure the board must follow that stops the seizure of funds for at least another 45-60 days. Under this process, COAH must provide all interested parties notice before their funds can be seized, followed by a 30-day period to respond. In addition, the state must issue a detailed determination in response to any information provided, plus provide a 15-day period for responses and is required to meet collectively before any funds can be taken.

The state's construction industry will also be further halted from re-bounding, and many jobs for residents will be lost if the money is taken. According to the President of NJ-based Homeless Solutions, Inc., Rev. Dr. Elizabeth S. Hall, "The governor is forgoing a major economic opportunity for the state by attempting to seize this money." Dr. Hall further notes that, "local trust funds comprise 25 percent or less of a project's cost associated with developing affordable homes, meaning $160 million in local funds could leverage about a half billion dollars in additional financing and grants — a tremendous shot in the arm for [the] NJ employment rate that continues to lag behind the nation."

The Appellate Division's decision provides an important stop to the administration's attempt to seize these much-needed funds. Until these funds are permanently preserved, however, our state continues to run the high risk of leaving thousands of residents displaced by Sandy homeless for many years to come.  

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Andrew Todd F. Kunka
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