Christie Administration Knew Trust Fund Raid Was Illegal
Posted by Kevin Walsh on September 6th 2012
Public Documents that Administration Tried to Hide Show It Knew More Guidance Needed Before Taking Funds
Fair Share Housing Center has obtained, and today releases, trust fund regulations that the Christie Administration proposed, then pulled back at the last minute, that would have given municipalities and developers much needed guidance on what they needed to do to prevent the Christie Administration from raiding their municipal housing trust funds.
“The Christie Administration knew that towns needed clearer guidance on how to use these funds to create much needed homes and jobs throughout New Jersey,” Fair Share Housing Center staff attorney Adam Gordon said. “However, because they wanted to raid the money to fill a budget hole in Trenton, they tried to hide public documents and deliberately kept towns in a state of confusion.”
The 29 pages of regulations, which Fair Share Housing Center has decided to make public here since the Administration has refused to make them public, address when a municipality is required to hand over its housing funds to the state and when the municipality can retain those funds The document further adds to the confusing and inconsistent positions the administration has taken in the process of raiding the trust funds, all of which appear to be directed towards taking as much money as possible without any fair or consistent standard.
“Unfortunately, the Christie Administration, by waging an ever-changing crusade to raid these funds, is stalling the development of hundreds of homes that are ready to go throughout the state,” Gordon said. “With New Jersey’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate and pent up demand for starter homes in much of the state, those are not jobs we can afford to lose.”
The administration attempted to take $140 million in trust funds in July 2012. However, Fair Share Housing Center and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities challenged the action in court based on the lack of both guidance on what towns could do to avoid the funds being taken and any formal authorization to take the funds. In August, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court enjoined the Christie Administration’s attempt to take the funds, which found that they did not possess the legal authority to demand the $140 million. That order requires the Council on Affordable Housing to meet prior to any further attempts to take money; in the nearly one month since the order that has not happened and as such no trust funds have been taken. Meanwhile, a broader legal challenge to whether the Administration can take trust funds at all without formal guidance continues.
The Christie Administration has vigorously asserted that it should be obvious to towns and developers what they need to do to insulate the funds from being recaptured, and said it would be “entirely unreasonable and unnecessary” to require them to release any further guidance. But the regulations released today show that as recently as this March, the Administration admitted that the standards were far from obvious and indeed required further guidance.
“If towns had a chance to comply with Christie’s own proposed regulations, towns would be able to keep most of the money that the Governor is now trying to take,” Gordon added. “Yet instead the Administration has vehemently asserted that what they themselves did is unreasonable, in a bid to take as much money as possible.”
Before Fair Share Housing Center obtained a copy of the regulations that had been provided to the Legislature when proposed, it had previously formally requested the regulations through the Open Public Records Act from the Christie Administration. The Christie Administration denied that request, claiming the information was privileged. That claim was clearly incorrect given that the regulations were in fact formally proposed and referred to a legislative committee, a fact not disclosed by the Christie Administration in responding to the public records request.
Fair Share Housing Center, founded in 1975 is based in Cherry Hill. It is the only public interest organization devoted entirely to defending the housing rights of New Jersey’s poor through implementing the Mount Laurel doctrine, which requires that each municipality provides its fair share of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income people.