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Affordable Housing Plans in New Jersey Face GOP Blowback

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(The Center Square) — A New Jersey proposal to expand affordable housing is facing pushback amid concerns that it would set unreasonable mandates on many local governments. 

The proposal, which recently cleared the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee with a favorable vote, calls for overhauling the state's decades-old affordable housing law and shelling out $16 million to local governments to help cover the cost of expanding the infrastructure needed to support more housing. 

Senate President Nicholas Scutari, one of the bill's primary sponsors, said the goal is "to develop more affordable housing in our state and strengthen the system that enables that development." 

"This bill marks an important stride towards making housing in New Jersey more accessible and affordable for all of our residents," the Democrat said in a statement. 

But Republicans say the bill would strip cities and towns of their development rights and force municipalities to fast-track the building of affordable housing units. 

In a joint statement, Sen. Carmen Amato and Assembly members Brian Rumpf and Greg Myhre said the plan "has all the trappings of a disastrous policy that will directly and negatively impact people’s quality of life." 

"Unreasonable mandates, quotas, and deadlines pave the way for overdevelopment, traffic congestion, and sharp spikes in school enrollment," the lawmakers said. "Local taxpayers - not Trenton - will subsidize the cost of affordable housing and the inevitable student enrollment growth created by expansive development."

Under the so-called Mount Laurel Doctrine, which is based on a series of state Supreme Court rulings dating back to 1975, local governments are required to zone for a “fair share” of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. 

Supporters of the changes say the law incentivizes developers to get around building affordable housing projects by permitting them to build as many market-rate units as they want as long as 20% is set aside for low- or moderate-income tenants. They argue that's the root of the state's affordable housing crisis. 

Under the proposal, local governments must adhere to a new formula based on a previous court ruling to determine how many affordable units they would need to zone for. Cities and towns would also face deadlines to approve housing plans and update zoning ordinances, among other requirements. 

But the Republicans say the plan is an example of government overreach by the state's Democratic leadership, which they said continues to pile mandates on local governments. 

“Rather than reduce taxes, control government spending, or commit to economic growth policies, Trenton has turned to subsidized government housing and imposing even more senseless state mandates on municipalities," they said. "Weakening residents’ ability to make community-driven decisions through their local officials is not how the system is supposed to work."