By Michael Laffey

As an attorney I am often exposed, through my clients, to examples of government ineptitude.  Truly there is no scarier phrase then “I am from the government and I’m here to help”. 

I recently came across a most glaring example of this.  Twenty years ago this person purchased a “low income housing unit”   These are typically units that that are built by developers so that towns can meet their COAH obligations.  In return the developer gets increased density for its market rate housing.  More about that later.  These units have deed restrictions that limit the amount the value of the house can appreciate.

This person is now ready to move out of their low income housing.  Here is the problem.  There are no buyers who qualify as low income.  In an effort to assist this person I contacted some experts in this area and found out that even when there are low income buyers available they can not qualify for a mortgage. Apparently there are numerous vacant low income housing units just sitting there. It seems thanks to an activist Supreme Court and an inept government we have housing units that no-one can buy.  

Now this is not the first time I have come across flaws in the COAH system.  I have also seen examples where someone right out of college had income low enough to purchase low or moderate income housing and a relative willing to help them purchase it. Five years later their income is increased substantially, they have a fat bank account and a BMW in the driveway while living in housing that costs them a pittance. Not really the people who needed government intervention to get a leg up.

Another problem, abuse really, are the people who have illegally rented out their COAH units and made a nice sum of cash.  This is more common then you would think.

The real problem however is that COAH housing has done more to increase the cost to live in New Jersey then anything else including overpaid government employees and public employee benefit packages.  Here is why. For the last 30 years developers have been able to force communities to allow them to build developments in excess of what the municipality has zoned for by agreeing to also build a small number of low and moderate income housing. This is due to the ill conceived judicial legislation coming out of the Mount Laurel line of cases.

How has this driven up the cost to live in New Jersey?  For every residential unit that is built a municipality generally spends $1.50 in services for every $1.00 it gets in tax revenue.  This is the reason that taxes are generally higher the more populated a community is.

So thanks to government we have a program to provide affordable housing that really does not work AND has actually made it more expensive to live in New Jersey. In my opinion it has also degraded our quality of life by overdeveloping our communities. For these reasons affordable housing is a perfect example of an area that should not be the responsibility of government.

How do we fix the problem?  Unfortunately since the Supreme Court decision that started the whole mess is based on rights the court has found in our state constitution there is only one way to fix the problem.  We need an amendment to the State Constitution which in effect overrules the Mount Laurel cases and does away with the Council On Affordable Housing. This will get the government out of the affordable housing business and return zoning control to local municipalities.  Since our Legislature in thirty years has not had the courage to do this that will not likely happen until we get initiative and referendum in the State of New Jersey.  This will do more to control property taxes going forward then anything else being done.

Posted: March 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: COAH | Tags: , | 15 Comments »


  1. Barry said at 11:56 am on March 15th, 2011:

    You hit the nail on the head. Mt. Laurel and Abbott (another decision that raises the cost to live in NJ) are two egregious overreaching decisions by the courts that should have prompted an amendment to the NJ Constitution long ago.

  2. brian said at 3:07 pm on March 15th, 2011:

    The short answer–l want to move out of this sinkhole of a state…………

  3. Justified Right said at 5:58 pm on March 15th, 2011:

    I agree.

    But after we kill COAH, please kill the suburban welfare of buying open spaces so no one can live there. Suburban welfare queens.

    If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t need to manipulate housing prices – they would be inexpensive all by themselves.

  4. MLaffey said at 9:32 am on March 16th, 2011:

    I couldn’t disagree more Tom.

    Government has always maintained land for the public good. I know lots of cities that have wonderful parks.

    Open space helps keep our air and water clean provides habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for people.

    It also helps stabilize taxes in the long run.

  5. JustifiedRight said at 10:56 am on March 16th, 2011:

    So tax spending that benefits you is good, tax spending that benefits others is bad.

    I think it’s all bad.

    Who wants to start a new state where it’s all bad?

  6. MLaffey said at 12:40 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    1. Not what I said. and yes some government taxing and spending is approptiate. The next time you need a policeman you will probably agree.

    2. Open space benefits if not everyone at least an overwhelming majority.

    3. COAH and the Mount Laurel cases go way beyond taxing and spending. It is social engineering and it does not work.

  7. Justified Right said at 1:48 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    Open space purchases are not social engineering but COAH is?

    Sorry Mike they both are.

    Do you forget Marx’s first listed goal of communism?

    1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

    I’m sure he thought his purposes for government control of land were as lofty as you think yours to be.

  8. James Hogan said at 8:21 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    My biggest problem with the whole “open space preservation” thing is that I see these signs that say “these ### acres preserved for future generations / year 19XX” and I think to myself… I’m a future generation! And I’d love nothing more than put a nice garbage dump, or a prison, or a racetrack, or a sky scraper, or a shooting range, or a strip mall, or a merry-go-round, or a… right over there. But instead it’s ### acres that I can’t even take a hike through with the dog, or camp overnight in, or use at all. What a waste.

  9. Chris said at 8:47 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    Open spaces are great, but I think we crossed the line. Government owns almost 1/3 of the land in US. It owns 50% of the land west of the Rockies!! Where does this stop?

    If you want to track the roots of the skyrocketting real estate prices that let to the big bubble, that let to the great recession, it all starts with the open space buying frenzy in the ’60s and ’70s, which drastically reduced supply – and hence increased prices.

  10. MLaffey said at 10:49 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    Ok I respect your opinion on this.
    I just hope none of you are using the county golf course and your kids are not playing soccer at the local park and please don’t vacation at any of our national parks or go to a public beach this summer.

  11. Justified Right said at 10:35 am on March 17th, 2011:

    Exactly what Chris said – supply and demand. I’ve been making that point about open spaces for yours.

    Chris that 1/3 number is just the feds. If you count state, county and municipal ownership of land too, it is somewhere north of 40%.

    When we cross 50%, call me comrade.

    In New Jersey we ameded the Contstutution to say we have to spend nearly $100 million yearly to purchase open spaces – need it or not,

    Over 200 municipalities passed ordinances stating they have to buy open spaces every year – need it or not.

    That’s a lot of golf courses, Mr. Laffey.

  12. MLaffey said at 2:25 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    Since we are already way way of topic (thanks to Tommy) let me throw out some interesting facts.

    After the Louisiana purchase the federal government owned 80% of the total US territory.

    Today most of the land the Government owns is in western states that were territories obtained in treaties with Mexico, England and Russia. When these territories became States the Federal government retained ownership of large portions of the land (exceeding 50% in 5 western states and 20% in 12). The Feds did not take or buy most of this land. they have just never sold all of what they owned from the beginning.

    In NJ The federal Government only owns 3.1% of the land (as of 2004).

    GAO has reported that overall federal landownership between 1964 and 1994 for the four environmental agencies declined from 700.8 million acres to 622.8 million.

    You can decide for yourself what perspective these facts bring to the discussion.

    One final note most of the funds spent to purchase open space in NJ have been voted on and overwhelmingly approved at the ballot box.

  13. JustifiedRight said at 2:58 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    Mike I know we disagree but I can’t see how a discssion on the purchase of open space is off topic when discussing affordable housing.

    Supply and demand are not different topics.

    Another fun fact is that NJ owns about 25% of the land in NJ, yet we still passed that Constitutional Amendment requiring us to buy more and over 200 towns have it as a requirement they by more.

    Popularity of these purchases? Socialism and communism always start with popular, populist intentions.

    Then it goes badly.

  14. Chris said at 3:06 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    The numbers I was mentioning were referring to total Government ownership (federal, state, county, local).

    In our early days, the trend was for the Government to give up land and stimulate growth. It’s only over the past 40-50 years that it’s been reversed and Government started this land-accumulating frenzy.

    And it’s fine to acquire land to open a new park or county golf course, but most land purchases today are but for “preservation” purposes only. Whenever a big property is up for sale, some branch of Government will try to purchase it, to prevent development.

    And yes, those measures to purchase open space in NJ were overwhelmingly approved, same as Jon Corzine, Bob Menendez or Barrack Obama overwhelmingly won in NJ.

  15. Justified Right said at 6:02 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    Hey look guys, from the department of timely topics comes the Daily Caller: