TRENTON - Suburban New Jersey communities would be barred from pushing affordable housing into poorer towns under a proposal advanced yesterday by Assembly lawmakers.

"New Jersey's Fair Housing Act has neither been fair nor has it led to enough housing for our residents," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D., Camden). "For too long our state largely failed to make affordable housing available to families who simply need a safe and affordable place."

New Jersey is the only state with a constitutional requirement to create affordable housing, but critics say it has failed.

Census data show New Jersey is the second-most-expensive state for homeowners and the fourth for renters, despite a 1975 state Supreme Court decision requiring all New Jersey municipalities to provide housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

But state law allows suburban towns to pay cities to take their affordable housing. For example, Colts Neck, in Monmouth County, paid Long Branch $2.8 million to repair and develop 107 homes for low-income residents.

The agreements have been hailed for providing housing money to poor cities, but criticized as unfair because they fail to provide affordable suburban housing.

Pennsauken Mayor Jack Killion said his community turned down $3 million from an affluent community, Medford, because it feels growing, job-rich towns should provide their fair share. Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton said the deals concentrate poverty in cities.

"The time has come for all municipalities to provide housing for low- and moderate-income citizens," she said. "It can only make our communities economically and socially balanced, and provide fair and equal opportunities for all residents."

But Bridgewater Mayor Patricia Flannery said suburban towns don't sell housing obligations to discriminate, but because of space constraints and costs tied to development such as the need for new schools.

"I find it very unfortunate that some of this debate seeks to pit cities against suburbs," Flannery said.

The pending measure would also make available tax credits to developers who build affordable housing, require that state-assisted housing projects include affordable housing, and require developers to replace low-cost housing lost through redevelopment.