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.