Howell will settle affordable housing litigation with Fair Share Housing Center

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HOWELL – The attorney who represents Howell on matters dealing with affordable housing has informed the Township Council of a planned settlement regarding the municipality’s affordable housing obligation.

Attorney Andrew Bayer addressed the council at its Aug. 14 meeting. Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, Councilman Bob Walsh and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell were in attendance. Mayor Theresa Berger and Councilwoman Pauline Smith were absent from the meeting.

Bayer was authorized by the council to finalize a settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, which advocates for the construction of affordable housing throughout the state.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.

Baayer said the settlement will be for 895 affordable housing units to be developed in Howell covering the period between 1999 to 2025. He explained why he recommended that council members settle the litigation.

“One reason is that the Fair Share Housing Center, which is the participant in every municipality’s affordable housing litigation, had experts opine that Howell’s fair share (affordable housing) obligation was 1,368 units. The settlement at 895 units represents a 473-unit reduction off the experts’ report,” Bayer said.

The attorney explained that the construction of the additional 473 units of affordable housing could have resulted in the construction of 2,000 additional market rate homes in Howell – a total of 2,473 new housing units.

He said continuing to litigate the matter would be expensive and difficult, and would most likely result in Howell having to approve 895 or more affordable housing units.

“I think this settlement is a very good result for Howell. … You had almost 300 existing affordable housing credits from projects that previously had been approved, but what was particularly commendable about what the township was able to negotiate with developers is that we have achieved a 30 percent set-aside from three developers,” Bayer said.

The set-aside refers to the percentage of affordable housing units in a particular project. Bayer said the typical set-aside is 15 percent in a rental project and 20 percent in a project where units are sold.

“We have achieved with rental projects, a 30 percent set-aside,” he said.

Walsh thanked Nicastro and Berger for meeting with developers and working toward the 30 percent set-aside.

Nicastro said the issue was not an easy task. He said the reduction in the number of affordable housing units from 1,368 to 895 may prevent 2,000 housing units from being built in Howell.

“There is no good outcome with this. We know it is a constitutional mandate and an obligation and we can (tell the public) what other towns’ (affordable housing) numbers are and how low compared (to those numbers) Howell is. It is not going to make people happy, we understand that, but at the end of the day we did the best we could with what we had to deal with and that is what it is,” Nicastro said.

O’Donnell commended her fellow council members and thanked them for their efforts on the affordable housing issue.

Resident Barbara Dixel congratulated the council on the settlement and for avoiding what is known as a builder’s remedy lawsuit which can result in additional homes being built in a municipality above and beyond the number of new homes officials might have approved.

“When you fight affordable housing and you lose, you get a builder’s remedy. So good for you guys. The last thing we need is a builder’s remedy, so good for you. You hit a home run,” Dixel said.