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New Jersey Reforms Affordable Housing Mandate

It's taken nearly 50 years, but New Jersey may finally be putting some teeth behind a 1975 landmark ruling by the NJ Supreme Court ordering the Garden State's 564 municipalities to adjust their zoning laws so they don't exclude affordable housing.

In a case known as the Mount Laurel Doctrine—for the town that was the original defendant in the lawsuit—the state's top court mandated an obligation under the state constitution for every municipality in a growth area to provide a fair share of the region's affordable housing needs.

What followed were decades of legal disputes between municipalities and the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center as towns tried to negotiate the parameters of their Mount Laurel obligations in a state with some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed what he called a "monumental and historic" bill implementing a new process later this year to determine where affordable housing should be built, renovated or zoned in NJ over the next decade.

The new law codifies a formula to help towns determine the number of units they need to fulfill the Mount Laurel Doctrine to provide their fair share of homes for low- and moderate-income households.

Starting in October, the state Department of Community Affairs will publish obligation numbers for towns to consider based on a formula that weighs the amount of developable land in the municipality, growth in the number of households, and changes in non-residential property values, among other factors.

The formula was developed in a 2018 court case which determined how much affordable housing was needed in the Mercer County towns of Princeton and West Windsor, according to a report in NorthJersey.com.

The bill signed into law by Murphy requires municipalities to hit a series of deadlines to create plans that outline where they would zone for affordable housing and what type of housing they would authorize.

The plans would allow developers to forgo zoning approvals for certain projects as long as 20% of the units were affordable, protecting these projects from lengthy zoning litigation, according to the report.

Towns will be permitted to propose new numbers based on how much land they have available for affordable housing. The law creates a "dispute resolution program" in the courts.

The measure also establishes bonus credits—which count for more than one housing unit—if a municipality creates special needs housing, apartments near public transit, age-restricted units, housing on land occupied by commercial or office space, or market-rate units that are reserved as affordable, the report said.

" means that the affordable housing obligations of towns up and down our state will be determined much more quickly than in decades past," Murphy said, at a signing ceremony in Perth Amboy.

"This legislation will enable us to build new, affordable housing where it is needed with far fewer hurdles. Creating more affordable housing will also help close the racial wealth gap and help more families escape generational poverty," the governor said.

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Reprinted with permission from the Tue, 26 Mar 2024 06:10:53 EDT online edition of GlobeSt © 2024 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-256-2472 or reprints@alm.com.