Jackson council votes to settle affordable housing issue

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By MARK ROSMAN
Staff Writer

JACKSON – The Jackson Township Council has signed off on an agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center of Cherry Hill that is expected to settle issues related to the development of affordable housing in the municipality.

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Council members voted 3-1 on Oct. 25 to accept a negotiated settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center. Council Vice President Ken Bressi, Councilman Scott Martin and Councilwoman Ann Updegrave voted yes. Councilman Barry Calogero voted no. Council President Rob Nixon was absent.

Calogero said he voted no because, “While I appreciate the hard work and efforts of our attorney to negotiate a reduced affordable housing requirement, I will not allow Trenton bureaucrats to dictate how many affordable homes must be built in Jackson.

“To satisfy (the state’s) reduced number of affordable homes, the township will have to grow by tens of thousands of residents over the next 25 years.

“Despite the fact that by not accepting this settlement it could very well lead to a court mandated greater requirement, I refuse to succumb to a flawed system and flawed calculations, and while I understand my obligation as an elected official to enforce state mandates, I have a greater obligation to my constituents who elected me to represent their wishes, not the wishes of Trenton’s Council on Affordable Housing,” Calogero said.

The settlement agreement between the parties runs about dozen pages, but municipal officials prepared a one-page statement which seeks to explain the reasons behind the agreement in plain language.

Officials said the agreement is between Jackson and the Fair Share Housing Center and includes intervenors to the declaratory judgment litigation, Highview Homes. The agreement determines Jackson’s affordable housing obligation for the period of 1999 to 2025.

Under rulings handed down by the state Supreme Court dating back to the 1980s, municipalities must provide opportunities for the development of housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets New Jersey regional guidelines.

Officials said the agreement “obligates the township to introduce and adopt a Housing Element and Fair Share Plan to address this third round obligation, which consists of planning for 657 affordable units, 414 of which are already in the plan and have the requisite approvals to build.

“The plan and associated ordinances must be adopted within 120 days of the court’s approval of the agreement as well as an updated spending plan for the affordable housing trust fund. The township is required to add certain organizations to the list of community and regional organizations in its affirmative marketing plan and provide notice to those organizations of all available affordable housing units,” officials said.

The agreement only applies to Jackson and officials said that of the 33 municipalities in Ocean County, 13 filed declaratory judgment actions.

“The court required a trial on the appropriate methodology to use for the county to determine third round housing obligations. … The trial started on Oct. 6. … The 13 municipalities were to share the costs for preparation for trial, experts and the trial. In the weeks prior to the trial, municipalities began entering into settlement agreements, leaving Jackson alone to participate in and bear the cost of trial,” according to the statement.

Officials said if an agreement was not reached, “Jackson would have continued with the trial through completion. The trial was estimated to take several weeks to complete.

“The court was considering different methodologies, including the Fair Share Housing Center’s expert which estimated the township’s third round prospective need at 3,258 units in 2015 and at 3,558 in 2016, if the Supreme Court determines that a housing need arose in the period of 1999 to 2015, or 1,708 if the only period to be considered is 2015-25.

“It is impossible to determine what the outcome of the trial would have been, however, it is known that Jackson would have expended tens of thousands of dollars completing the trial and would have most likely ended up with a higher obligation than what it settled for,” officials said.

The settlement agreement between Jackson and the Fair Share Housing Center must be approved by the court, according to representatives of the municipality.

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