A new report from the Fund for New Jersey says the state is in a bind – with too few homes residents can afford, too many homes in aging suburbs that have lost their luster and not enough political will to address the challenge.

The fifth in the Crossroads NJ series says New Jersey needs to plan better at the state and regional level, step up efforts to reduce evictions and foreclosures and put a dent in the need for hundreds of thousands of affordable homes by committing $600 million to the effort.

The $600 million could come from state and federal funds. It would be spread across various efforts, the biggest of them appearing to be tax credits for developers.

Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, said the state already collects close to $500 million in housing-related taxes that could be redirected, primarily from realty transfer fees – if political leaders commit to it.

“They find money for things that are important to them. And this needs to be important to them,” said Berger, noting the state found a way to borrow $300 million for Statehouse renovations and allocate $200 million more toward opioid-related programs.

If more money in the general fund is redirected toward housing programs, that leaves less for other priorities. But Fund for New Jersey president Kiki Jamieson said the state must make these types of investments if it wants to thrive while getting its fiscal house in order.

“We’re not naïve. We recognize that this money is not just sitting out there waiting to be plucked, that it will involve tough decision making,” Jamieson said.

Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, said that if several of the recommendations are implemented, but not all, that would make the state fairer. He said a lot can be done to address housing issues without any state money – but that “they will fall short, if that’s all that happens.”

Walsh said private-sector developers are interested in building the homes, if towns would get out of their way and adopt more permissive zoning. He said housing is a difficult issue in some places but that usually it’s not really the political end-of-the-world that elected officials fear.

“In a lot of places, once people have a reasonable conversation about this, they realize that the old lumber yard in town really could benefit from redevelopment,” he said. “They realize that there’s a lot to gain from promoting housing near the train station. And they realize the sky’s not going to fall if they update their housing ordinances to permit multifamily housing.”

Fair Share is in state Superior Court about housing obligations with around 350 municipalities. Walsh said it has settled with 120 towns so far, covering around 50,000 housing units, and that another 80 settlements may be reached by year-end.

Peter Reinhart, director of Monmouth University’s Kislak Real Estate Institute, said state and regional planning are key. He said suburbs that were desirable in the 1980s and 1990s that have fallen out of favor must rethink how to attract residents and workers.

“New Jersey is still a very desirable state to live in and work, make no bones about it,” Reinhart said. “But it is in danger of losing market share to other states if we don’t do more to address the housing needs of current residents as well as future ones.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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