The following editorial by Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) on the impact that a New Jersey Suprement Court ruling on affordable housing will have on taxpayers and open space was published in the Star-Ledger on January 27, 2017:
Sen. Kip Bateman’s editorial on the impact that a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on affordable housing will have on taxpayers and open space. (©iStock)
Providing enough affordable housing for people in need is one of the most important issues we face in this state. The constant string of misguided court decisions has done nothing but create confusion for our towns.
Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling that could be devastating to taxpayers.
The court essentially overturned a July 2016 Appellate Court decision and ruled that the calculation of present need must be expanded to include obligations created during the “gap period” of 1999-2015. The court determined that a new, undefined “analytic component” should be used to determine if the needs created during the gap period still exist today.
Since its first intrusive decision more than 40 years ago, the court has been infamous for creating this kind of confusion. As a result, municipalities have spent far too much time and money in court battling over how to determine and satisfy their court-imposed “fair share.”
This isn’t a case of local officials trying to skirt their obligations. The reality is that municipalities have gone years without a single guideline for determining their obligations.
This ruling will only lead to more studies, expert analysis and litigation, all at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers.
Mandating these obligations could force some towns to increase the number of residential units by more than 60 percent, with little regard for open space, infrastructure, the individual needs of our communities, and the burden on local taxpayers.
Some towns could see their populations grow by the thousands in less than a decade, and many rural communities simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle this kind of growth.
These towns have limited access to mass transit, small classrooms and emergency services designed to cater to a low population. The costs associated with upgrading and expanding these services would be astronomical, which will cause property taxes to sky rocket.
A one-size-fits-all mandate will make it impossible for municipalities to balance the need to provide affordable housing and protect the environment. Court-ordered overdevelopment will destroy the open space and natural resources we have worked so hard to preserve.
However, the Supreme Court also gave us a light at the end of the tunnel. In the ruling, it explicitly welcomed the legislature to enact an alternative plan.
As I’ve been saying for years, this is our best opportunity to develop solutions so that each town can provide affordable housing. Instead of having their future plans hinge on the constant back and forth of court rulings and appeals, municipalities will have a long-term plan with clear definitions and requirements for future development.
The comprehensive affordable housing reform bill I sponsor with Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, S-2216, allows municipalities to administer their affordable housing obligations, giving them the flexibility to make decisions that fit with their unique communities. We believe this is the only way we can satisfy the need for affordable housing while still protecting the environment and preventing a massive increase to property taxes.
The bill repeals the 2.5-percent commercial development fee in order to give developers more incentive to build affordable housing. The legislation would also establish an option for towns to pay into a municipal or state affordable housing trust fund, which could provide much needed relief for communities that are in danger of becoming overcrowded.
We have a chance to come to a solution that will fit the needs of our towns and the needs of people looking for affordable housing. This ruling gets us no closer to helping either party.
Until we enact our comprehensive affordable housing reforms, taxpayer money will continue to be wasted on expensive court cases.
It’s time for the legislature to take the lead and act now to put meaningful reforms in place. Once that is done, we can finally take real steps to ease the property tax burden, while ensuring municipalities have a commonsense plan to provide enough affordable housing for those in need.
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