Montgomery looking for help on affordable housing

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Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
Faced with the prospect of nearly doubling Montgomery Township’s population to accommodate state-mandated affordable housing obligations, Mayor Ed Trzaska has reached out to Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16th Legislative District) for help.
The two lawmakers sat down about 18 months ago, soon after Assemblyman Zwicker took office, to discuss the challenges facing Montgomery Township – including the impact that building more units to accommodate the township’s potential obligation of about 1,000 affordable units would have on the largely rural township.
In his May 8 letter to Assemblyman Zwicker, Mayor Trzaska wrote that about 5,000 new homes would have to be built in Montgomery in the next 10 years to satisfy the need to provide 1,000 units to be set aside for low- and moderate-income households. The rule of thumb is to build four “market-rate” units for every “affordable” unit.
“If Montgomery nearly doubled its size – from the (current) 7,000 households to 12,000 households – the implications would be devastating to our infrastructure, school system and local property taxes. Bottom line, the way of life in Montgomery would be changed forever,” Mayor Trzaska wrote.
Assemblyman Zwicker responded in his May 17 letter to Mayor Trzaska that he, along with Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, have co-sponsored legislation that would clarify the amount of affordable housing units that each town must supply. All three are members of the 16th Legislative District.
The issue stems from differences in the interpretation of how to calculate a town’s “fair share” of affordable housing. There is a “gap period” of at least 15 years since towns were last told how much affordable housing they needed to provide.
In the meantime, the state courts and fair share housing advocates have stepped into the fray. The courts have issued fair share housing obligations that include the number of affordable housing units that should have been built in the last 15 years. This has led towns to litigate in court to challenge those numbers, which are retroactive.
Assembly Bill A-3821, which was co-sponsored by Assemblymen Ciattarelli and Zwicker and Sen. Bateman, among others, states that the municipal fair share “shall not include retrospective calculations of law-and moderate-income households created during the gap periods.”
The bill “would resolve the dispute around the calculation of municipal obligations, thus providing municipal planners, housing advocates and builders alike much-needed certainly,” Assemblyman Zwicker wrote to Mayor Trzaska.
“I agree with you and many other elected officials of municipalities in our district that the current process for setting affordable housing obligations is untenable,” Assemblyman Zwicker wrote.
That’s why he and other lawmakers support Assembly Bill A-3821, he wrote.
After Assembly Bill A-3821 was introduced in May 2016, the assemblyman wrote, he studied the bill and consulted with others “on both sides of the issue to make sure that this bill would increase affordable housing development and give municipalities greater certainty for long term planning.”
Assemblyman Zwicker signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor in June 2016. The bill was introduced and has been referred to the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.
This is not the first bill introduced by 16th Legislative District lawmakers to address the issue of affordable housing.
In 2016, Sen. Bateman co-sponsored Senate Bill S-2216. The bill would require a 10-percent set-aside for affordable housing in new developments – down from 20 percent.
The proposed bill also calls for the state Department of Community Affairs to determine whether a town could be deemed to be “inclusionary,” based on whether it has supplied sufficient numbers of affordable housing units.
For those towns that choose to address their affordable housing obligation through a 10-percent set-aside – which requires that 10 percent of all new developments to be affordable to low- and moderate-income households – the bill allows them to meet that obligation through alternate means.
Those “alternate means” range from requiring a developer to build a 100-percent affordable development or contributing to it, to permitting “elder cottage” housing as an accessory unit on a property that already has a house on it.
A developer could build or contribute to the construction of an assisted living residence in which all or some of the units are restricted to low-and moderate-income households.
The bill introduced by Sen. Bateman and others, however, was referred to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee and subsequently tabled in February 2017.
An identical bill introduced by Assemblyman Ciattarelli at the same time is bottled up in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.