Very Low Income Housing
As part of the comprehensive housing reform passed last year, New Jersey adopted the nation’s first law requiring every municipality to provide some amount of housing affordable to very low-income people (below 30 percent of median income, or roughly $23,000 a year for a family of four). The new law marks a major victory for Fair Share Housing Center, which fought for this change for years.
With the exception of a few developments, including those built by Fair Share Housing Development and several privately built developments in which FSHC negotiated settlements that included very low-income housing in an effort to show for-profit builders the feasibility of including such homes, previous Mount Laurel housing had only reached households making 40 percent of median income or more.
The fact that Mount Laurel has largely benefited moderate-income families undermines one of the central principles of the landmark decision: that the urban poor should have an opportunity to choose where to live. While the requirement is still too weak—it only requires 13 percent of Mount Laurel housing to reach very low-income people despite a need of twice that amount—it is a good start, especially since COAH, at Fair Share Housing Center’s urging, adopted a regulation stating that at least half of this housing has to be specifically made available to families with children (the other portions can be met by special needs and/or age-restricted housing).
Our attention now turns to implementing this new law. We have already worked with the nonprofit and for-profit development industry and municipal affordable housing administrators on model recommendations on how to implement this requirement, paying attention to questions such as rental vs. homeownership, making payments sustainable over time, and providing supportive services with housing. Now, with 300 towns submitting plans which requires them to include how they will comply with this portion of the law, we are working to translate those recommendations into reality—in addition to carefully monitoring, and objecting to, municipalities that do not meet the requirement or try to find loopholes around the requirement.
By working with a wide range of stakeholders, perhaps most notably the for-profit development community, we seek to refute naysayers who claim that it is excessively costly to finance very low-income homes. We have already shown in several pilot developments that it is not a zero-sum game between very low-income homes and moderate-income homes, and now with a new statewide requirement and a potentially interested federal administration, we anticipate greatly expanding on that work to provide the first statewide model of very low-income housing development in high-opportunity communities.