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NJ Supreme Court Decision Rejects Christie’s Attempt to Abolish COAH

Posted by Kevin Walsh on July 10th 2013

Court Finds Governor Does Not Have Power to Abolish Independent Agencies

In a decision issued this morning, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Christie does not have the power to eliminate independent agencies. In its 5-2 decision, which was written by Chief Justice Rabner, the Court held that “The plain language of the Reorganization Act does not authorize the Chief Executive to abolish an independent agency like COAH.” The Court’s decision upheld a March 2012 appellate court ruling that reached the same conclusion.

“The Supreme Court’s decision ensures greater public participation and transparency in important decisions on where homes get built,” said Adam Gordon, the FSHC attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court. “It’s a bad idea for policies involving homes for working families, people with special needs, and lower-income seniors to be made behind closed doors. Especially after Sandy, we need to encourage more homes for people of all incomes.”

The Court found that the statute that created COAH “requires bipartisan control of the Council, with no more than six of its twelve members from the same political party.” It rejected the effort to vest that control in one person, stating that “The membership requirements in the statute ensure that a cross-section of community and State interests serve on the Council, with individual members representing different voices: local government, households in need of low- and moderate-income housing, nonprofit builders of affordable housing, the disabled, for-profit builders, and the public interest. Together, they comprise a balanced group with different perspectives.”

The Court’s decision comes at a time when the Christie Administration is attempting to take $165 million in housing trust funds from municipalities, which would result in thousands of homes not being built. “This decision allows for greater public involvement in decisions such as the battle over whether $165 million in housing trust funds will be seized or used to build homes,” said Gordon. “The Court correctly rejected the Governor’s attempt to shut the public out of this process.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is available here. Further information, including the parties’ briefs, is available here.

The COAH reorganization plan was proposed on June 29, 2011 and went into effect 60 days later. The plan was immediately appealed by the Center, and the Appellate Division reversed the plan in March 2012. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in January 2013.

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.