What should be considered affordable housing in New Jersey?

With the Council on Affordable Housing in legal limbo for the past several years, that question has become front and center as Superior Court judges in the Garden State have now started ruling on what affordable housing obligations municipalities may or may not have.

Econsult Solutions, a firm hired by 280 municipalities to represent them in court, has issued a report listing hundreds of  homes in the $300,000 to $500,000 range, some with swimming pools, cabanas and Tiki bars, as affordable housing.

“It’s such an absurd proposition that it’s hard to imagine anybody would argue that,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of The Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill.

He contends these homes are being listed this way in order for towns to get around their affordable housing obligations.

“These are not the sort of homes that people who work in New Jersey’s malls and diners and repair shops can afford,” he said. “Some New Jersey towns do not like working folks to live in their towns. What they’re arguing is because the half-million-dollar homes are available to lower income families and others, they shouldn’t have to provide homes, or opportunities for homes.”

He says like to welcome only some folks.

"You’re a millionaire, you’re welcome in many towns. If you’re not, you’re not welcome. And this is, I think, part of a long standing strategy to undermine New Jersey’s housing law.”

Walsh said in order to consider a $500,000 home as affordable housing, "a lower income family would pay interest only for 30 years, never pay any principal, and get the most favorable interest rate."

This, he says, is “impossible, and completely inconsistent with reality.”

Attorney Jeff Surenian, who represents Econsult, declined to make a comment, and referred questions to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

When asked to comment on whether homes valued between $300,000 and $500,000 should be considered affordable housing, Assistant Executive Director Mike Cerra said what the Fair Share Housing Center is trying to do is draw attention away from the inflated numbers they’re putting out representing how much affordable housing is really needed.

Walsh said affordable housing is a big issue and a real problem because New Jersey is an expensive state to begin with, and we just don’t have the supply to meet the need of where people want to live, which is close to their jobs.

He noted we have 565 towns in the Garden State, and they rarely make decisions that are good for the state or lower income folks, so affordable housing laws have been established to protect a significant portion of the population.

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