Housing advocates hope lawmakers block Murphy from raiding funds
As legislators search for ways to avoid the tax hikes Gov. Phil Murphy is seeking for the budget while also adding some of their own spending priorities, housing advocates are pressing for them to undo a budget-balancing maneuver that redirects affordable housing funds to other purposes.
As much as $78 million in funds are at stake, including $59 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $18.5 million from the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Staci Berger, chief executive officer and president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, noted Murphy promised as a candidate to stop a decade of such diversions.
Berger said 79 percent of people told the Eagleton-Rutgers Poll, in a survey paid for by her group, that the money should be used to create affordable homes and that the support was similar regardless of partisan affiliation, geography and age.
“Unfortunately, the proposed budget does not even yet take a half step in the correct direction,” Berger said. “We are hopeful that at the end of this budget season, perhaps the Legislature will make that course correction.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs oversees housing programs, said at legislative budget hearings that Murphy inherited a fiscal disaster and that “impossible choices” lead to compromise plans.
“Is it the most robust? It isn’t. We all always want more,” Oliver said.
Almost nine in 10 people told the Eagleton-Rutgers Poll the cost of housing is a serious concern, including 51 percent who called it very serious. The share of New Jerseyans saying they worry they won’t be able to afford housing in the next three to five years has doubled since 2000, said poll director Ashley Koning.
“We’ve been asking about housing issues in a variety of ways throughout the past five decades, and there’s definitely an increased concern here about what’s going on with housing costs,” Koning said.
Berger said it’s a growing problem statewide that needs leadership.
“I think in general, there is a very deep-seated concern about whether New Jersey is a place people can afford to call home or not,” Berger said.
A fee imposed on every house sale generates revenue that’s supposed to be used to underwrite the development of affordable housing, but since 2009 the money has often gotten diverted to pay for other state housing programs.
The transfer would run counter to the recommendation of Murphy's transition committee that studied housing issues, which said the housing funds "must be protected and used toward their intended purpose of ensuring that New Jersey is a place that people may afford to call home."
“This is something that people understand intuitively, that if the funding for homes people can afford is not made available as intended, it is very difficult simply to stay here,” Berger said.
“With housing and really with any issue, New Jerseyans always want to see the funds for that issue going toward that issue, and not as a plug for other parts of the budget,” Koning said.
The Murphy administration says the proposed budget relies on one-shot, non-recurring revenues for less than 1 percent of its funding, the lowest in 15 years.