Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. called yesterday for giving some towns more time to finish their affordable-housing plans, putting a key voice behind the outcry for delaying the latest state requirements.

Roberts, a Camden County Democrat, said municipalities should be allowed to apply for a 90-day extension of the Dec. 31 deadline for submitting plans to meet state-mandated affordable-housing quotas. The move would, in at least some areas, represent another road bump for a process that has been stalled by disputes for nearly a decade.

Roberts has been a leading proponent of expanding affordable housing, so his support of another delay could prove significant. But he did not go as far as others who have called for a blanket 180-day delay for all towns.

"We continue to share the commitment to maximize affordable housing in New Jersey, but with many communities struggling to adapt to [the] third-round rules, the state must provide more flexibility to help towns adjust," Roberts wrote to the state Council of Affordable Housing. Assemblyman Jerry Green (D., Union) cosigned.

In asking for some delays, Roberts cited concerns over regulatory changes that came as recently as September, the effect of the economic crisis on the housing market, and some pending state environmental rules that are due in April. It was not clear from his letter what the criteria for an extension would be.

"We appreciate their concern, and COAH is taking their recommendations under consideration," said Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for the state department that oversees affordable housing.

The third round of housing mandates was first due in 1999, according to the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill, but has been stalled by administrative delays and lawsuits from both sides.

The latest rules could require towns to provide roughly 115,000 new affordable-housing units over 15 years. Towns were supposed to submit plans to comply by the end of the year.

Mayors say the regulations are based on faulty estimates, however, and will force them to build to unmanageable densities. The plans could require them to build on open spaces or spend huge sums on infrastructure needed to go along with all the new residents, they say.

The requirements, combined with a law approved earlier this year tightening how towns meet their mandates, have led to an outcry from Republicans in Trenton and mayors of all parties, who are suing to block the obligations.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Union County Democrat who sponsored the tougher law in June, has even joined the Republican critics and is among those calling for a 180-day delay. Several lawmakers have plans to introduce bills revamping the entire affordable-housing program.

"An extension treats the symptoms created by the COAH disease, but we also need to cure the malady; that is: insufficient funds to build affordable housing and COAH imposed obligations that are environmentally and economically unsound," Lesniak wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

Affordable-housing advocates have previously bristled at calls for a delay, but sounded open to Roberts' plan.

"If there are towns that need a little time to get this right in order to get this housing built and protect the environment, it is reasonable for them to ask COAH for a brief delay," Diane Sterner, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said in a statement.

Mayors favor the more expansive, and longer, delay.

"We view a 90-day extension as a good beginning," said William Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, which is leading the lawsuit against the latest requirements. "But the league has called on the governor to issue an executive order allowing for a six-month extension."

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 609-989-9016 or jtamari@phillynews.com.