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Court rejects towns’ attempts to ignore 16 years of housing need

Posted by Laura Denker on October 7th 2016

Dear Friend,

In the run-up to a key New Jersey Supreme Court case, a Superior Court judge has rejected the arguments of a group of municipalities seeking to evade their constitutional obligation to provide housing opportunities to tens of thousands of working families that formed over a 16-year period when the state’s fair housing laws were not being enforced.

Issued Wednesday afternoon, the ruling by Judge Douglas K. Wolfson in South Brunswick’s fair housing case comes after the New Jersey Supreme Court stayed an Appellate Division ruling on the so-called gap period last month, pending a review by the high court in November. This stay is allowing fair housing cases to continue in the lower courts.

In a comprehensive 54-page decision, Judge Wolfson rejected the conclusions of a study produced by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions Inc. on behalf of a group of towns opposing fair housing opportunities for New Jersey residents. Judge Wolfson found that Econsult departed multiple times from the state’s fair housing laws, including regulations established by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), in an attempt to artificially lower municipal obligations.

“As part of a calculated effort to reduce statewide and municipal affordable housing need, Dr. Angelides impermissibly deviated from established COAH practices in his assessment of affordable housing need generated during the Gap Period,” Judge Wolfson wrote.

By contrast, Judge Wolfson ruled that the housing study we published was credible, “grounded in reliable data, and consistent with COAH’s prior round methodology.”

As a result, Judge Wolfson entirely accepted our gap period methodology and affirmed our housing study, which found a statewide need of more than 200,000 units to meet the pent-up demand for housing among New Jersey families.

This decision demonstrates that towns can’t use gimmicks to exclude tens of thousands of working families, seniors and people with disabilities from safe neighborhoods and access to good schools and employment.

Judge Wolfson said that Econsult relied on outdated and unreliable data that deviated significantly from federal and state standards and that its approach was “contrary to the core principles of the Mount Laurel doctrine.”

As an example, he called “inexplicable” Econsult’s decision to exclude renters from its fair housing calculations – even though the majority of New Jersey’s low- and moderate-income families rent.

While noting the Supreme Court’s stay, Judge Wolfson also rejected municipalities’ arguments that the Appellate Division’s gap period decision permitted them to ignore the fair housing need that accumulated during the 16-year gap period beginning in 1999 – a period that included the Great Recession, Superstorm Sandy, a wave of casino foreclosures and an ongoing foreclosure crisis.

Judge Wolfson noted that decades of New Jersey law – as well as the Council on Affordable Housing’s approach to prior gap periods – rejected these municipalities’ approaches.

“The affordable housing need that accrued during the 16 year Gap Period must be included as a component part of South Brunswick’s fair share obligation,” Judge Wolfson added. “This conclusion is consistent with both COAH’s prior treatment of the unmet need that arose during the 1993 and 1995 mini-gap period, and the Supreme Court’s admonition that prior (pre-2015) round obligations were ‘preserved’ and were not to be ‘ignored or eradicated’, but rather should be used as the ‘starting point’ in calculating a municipality’s fair share responsibility.”

We thank you for your continued support for advancing fair housing opportunities across New Jersey.

New Jersey’s families have waited 16 long years for our state’s housing laws to provide them the opportunities promised by our Constitution. It’s time to reject these extreme arguments so that we can get to work building homes for New Jersey families.

You can read Judge Wolfson’s decision here.

Sincerely,
Kevin Walsh
Executive Director, Fair Share Housing Center