HOPEWELL: My questions remain unanswered

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To the editor:

The Hopewell Township Committee cancelled its May 29 meeting. As a result, my questions about affordable housing alternatives investigated by the township remain unanswered. Perhaps the mayor will soon present the answers here.

In my recent letters to the editor, I have advocated for the building of 100 percent affordable housing in one or two of the sites designated for affordable housing. The 100 percent option is not unprecedented. Indeed, it has become the most popular municipal option and the subject of a recent book. According to COAH statistics, more than one-half of the affordable units built in New Jersey are 100 percent affordable.

There are at least two reasons for the popularity of this option.

First, COAH rules permit a rental bonus, up to a cap. Affordable housing rental units can count as two credits towards our affordable housing obligation. It is my understanding that we are at our rental bonus cap.

Second, 100 percent affordable housing eliminates the associated market rate units.

The township has already signed contracts to allow for the construction of 653 affordable units and at least 2,881 market rate units. And we do know where they will be built. At least 78 affordable units and 300 market rate homes will be built behind Shoprite and 2,070 market rate units will be built on Scotch Road. The township’s housing stock will grow by more than 50 percent, new children will swell school enrollments, undoubtedly reversing the recent demographic changes in our school population. And these new units are likely to lead to significant additional property taxes to pay for increased municipal services.

The township should have these demographic and financial projections in hand, but they have not yet shared them with the public despite repeated requests. I am left to wonder if they even assembled them before they acted. Meanwhile, cheerleaders are celebrating committee actions in the absence of this key information.

A 2013 study (Douglas S. Massey, Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb, Princeton University Press) of a 100 percent affordable housing development in New Jersey found that such housing “had no adverse effect on crime in the community, municipal property taxes, property values in the community, and specifically property values in adjacent neighborhoods.” I urge members of the committee to read the book.

The current committee cannot blame others for the contracts they themselves have signed. They were the committee charged to act, given the timing of the court processes. They all campaigned against over-development. They broke that pledge by reaching these ill-conceived agreements in secret.

And so, I raise my simple questions yet again:

Before they signed the contracts with developers, what alternatives did they investigate? What investigations did they conduct? Did they examine each alternative’s long-term impact on township budgets? And while I am waiting for the answers, a new question: did they or the school district estimate the demographic impact on Hopewell Valley Schools?

Cheryl Edwards

Hopewell Township