The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that towns must factor in the so-called “gap years” from 1999 through 2015 when calculating their affordable housing obligations.
This ruling marks a victory for the Fair Share Housing Center, which had won the first trial over the obligations, but saw that ruling reversed in favor of the New Jersey League of Municipalities in an appellate court.
“Towns are constitutionally obligated to provide a realistic opportunity for their fair share of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households formed during the gap period and presently existing in New Jersey,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in the unanimous decision.
The original trial, in March 2015, came as a result of the Council on Affordable Housing — created under the 1985 Fair Housing Act — not having renewed affordable housing cycle rules in 1999, known as the third round, due to legally challenged guidelines.
State officials then failed to craft acceptable rules through 2015, when the Supreme Court stripped the council of its authority. Towns had challenged whether they were required to provide the housing that would have been mandated during those intervening years.
"This ruling is a victory for lower-income and minority families across New Jersey," said Colandus "Kelly" Francis, chairman of the board of directors of Fair Share Housing Center, said in a prepared statement.
By some estimates, Wednesday’s ruling could mean a housing obligation increase of more than 200,000 units across the state.
"This decision clears away one of the main obstacles remaining in the fight for fair housing in New Jersey,” Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center Kevin Walsh said in a statement.
A trial in Mercer County is also underway to determine countywide housing obligations.
“The need for affordable homes in this state has grown tremendously over the last two decades, coinciding with a recession, a foreclosure crisis and a devastating natural disaster,” Staci Berger, CEO and president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said in a statement. “Our hardworking families, seniors and people with disabilities have struggled to find homes they could afford during this time. New Jerseyans and their needs did not simply disappear during the gap period and, as the court ruled, they cannot be ignored.”
The Fair Share Housing Center also stated that over 90 towns have already agreed to meet the obligations for more than 30,000 affordable homes in the state, which could lead to the redevelopment of vacant strip malls, office and industrial parks.
“The court requiring towns to access affordable housing needs during the 16-year housing gap period will mean more options for working familis,” Jeff Tittle, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Now that towns must account for future, present and past needs, the amount of affordable housing will increase in some of New Jersey’s communities. That is why it is critical for towns to come in and settle now, so they can meet their obligations.”