Coordinated Regional Planning
Historically, Mount Laurel obligations have been assigned on the municipal level. Fair Share Housing Center pioneered the concept that in areas of the state where there are regional planning entities that supersede the traditional “home rule” structure of government, those obligations should be met on a regional level. The concept grew out of our successful 2007 litigation against the 14-municipality New Jersey Meadowlands District, which led to a requirement that a regional master plan be created with affordable housing in mind. The concept has since been borrowed by the Legislature, which consulted with us and expanded this innovative approach to all areas in which there are regional planning entities created by the state. That legislation authorized state agencies to reallocate affordable housing obligations to wealthier communities within the boundaries of the regional planning area so that the affordable housing is developed consistent with smart growth principles.
FSHC is now involved actively in four regional planning areas impacted by this 2008 legislation. The Meadowlands Commission has agreed to work with us and invited us to serve on a five-member affordable housing task force that will recommend how it meets a 3000-unit affordable housing obligation. Our work in the Meadowlands has become cooperative, with the Commission now relying on us for our expertise in meeting Mount Laurel obligations. The most exciting project we are working on the Meadowlands involves planning for substantial redevelopment around the Secaucus Transfer Station, which connects all of New Jersey Transit’s New York-bound services.
The 88-municipality Highlands area, which is subject to the new Highlands Regional Master Plan as a result of the 2004 passage of the Highlands Act, presents perhaps the state’s most significant opportunity for balancing environmental goals with the development of affordable housing. The Highlands offers a unique opportunity to show that environmental preservation does not have to mean excluding low-income and moderate-income families from having a decent or even desirable place to live. Collectively, the 88 municipalities have been assigned a 13,000-unit obligation. FSHC is insisting in litigation that any of those units that are not provided in the Highlands be provided in the growth areas outside the Highlands. The lessons learned from this process can serve as a model to guide housing and environmental policy in other states.
FSHC is also involved in the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth, a military base in Central Jersey that is being closed under the federal BRAC process. Although smaller than other planning areas in terms of its size, this three-municipality area presents a significant opportunity to provide hundreds of affordable homes. Unfortunately, the planning process for the redevelopment of the base has been overtaken by the three local mayors, who are seeking to maximize their tax bases by minimizing the development of housing. Just 350 affordable units are planned for this 1100-acre site. FSHC has filed an appeal of the master plan adopted for Fort Monmouth and is objecting to reductions that the three mayors are seeking from COAH. We hope that our advocacy, alongside those of local citizens and congregations, will lead to a national model for successful and inclusive base redevelopment that can be applied in the many other locations planning for base closure.
Our newest work is in the Pinelands, a 1.1 million-acre preserve covering portions of seven counties and all or parts of 53 municipalities. The Pinelands Commission was previously prohibited by law from requiring affordable housing, but the new legislation now gives it the authority to direct municipalities on how many units they should provide based on the Commission’s environmental and smart growth goals.
Our work in regional planning areas has already produced nearly $100 million in private sector investment in affordable housing that otherwise would not have happened. Our unique approach of shifting obligations to entities that operate on a regional basis is both good for planning purposes and good for affordable housing. We anticipate that tens of thousands of units of affordable housing will be built in the right places over the next decade, and we can help provide models for strong regional planning that incorporate people of all incomes in other states.