TRENTON - The Senate voted, 28-3, on Thursday to approve a bill that would end state-imposed quotas on how much affordable housing towns are required to build.
The proposal eliminates the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), as well as a 2.5 percent fee on commercial development, which is suspended, but set to take effect in July.
Supporters say it would return authority over housing decisions to local communities, but some fear that it would hand control to developers by making it easier for them to build in less-populated areas.
Since January, when the bill was introduced by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union), housing advocates have criticized it as unconstitutional and unable to meet the state's affordable-housing needs, and 100 organizations joined this week to announce their opposition.
The bill, known as S-1, "restores sanity to New Jersey's affordable-housing policy," Lesniak said Thursday on the Senate floor. Sens. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May) and Chris Bateman (R., Somerset) also are primary sponsors.
Gov. Christie has said he wanted to make affordable-housing changes the law by the end of the month. He praised the bill in a statement Thursday.
It "goes a long way toward fundamentally reforming the affordable-housing system, which New Jerseyans have long demanded and that I have promised to deliver," said Christie, who campaigned on gutting COAH.
The measure now requires approval by the Assembly.
The proposal would require developers of new residential projects of five or more units to set aside 10 percent for low- and moderate-income families.
Developers could satisfy their obligations through other means. Those include paying either $10,000 to rehabilitate off-site housing in place of each would-be affordable unit or paying 2.5 percent of the assessed value of the project into a municipal housing trust fund.
The bill also sets standards for a town to be "inclusionary," meaning it provides a variety of housing choices. Communities achieve the designation if 7.5 percent of their total housing stock is price-restricted, or if at least one-third is single-family attached housing or mobile homes. Towns that do not meet the criteria could become inclusionary by zoning at least 20 percent of developable land for workforce housing.
In towns that are not designated as inclusionary, local zoning boards would have to consider affordable-housing developments' applying for zoning variances as "inherently beneficial," which makes them much harder to reject. Many rural areas are not considered inclusionary.