By the New York Times editorial board (June 21, 2013)
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has tried to undermine the state’s commitment to affordable housing at every turn. In addition to trying to dismantle the independent state agency that oversees affordable housing development, he has sought to weaken the state law that prohibits local governments from using zoning to exclude housing for poor and working-class people.
The latest episode in the continuing dispute between Mr. Christie and fair housing advocates involved the state government’s effort to seize up to $165 million from housing trust funds held by municipalities and earmarked for affordable housing. A state appellate court recently ruled that the Christie administration could not seize the money unless local governments and nonprofit developers had been given an opportunity to challenge that action. The court also said that it expected the state’s affordable housing agency “to create and promote the development of affordable housing,” as the current law requires.
Earlier this year, housing advocates and Mr. Christie also clashed over the state’s federally financed Hurricane Sandy recovery plan, which included too little money for building and repairing rental properties, where lower-income residents typically live. The Christie administration increased this financing only after fair housing groups complained to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which could have moved to reject the plan.
His administration is also seeking to undermine the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1983 landmark ruling in the Mount Laurel housing case — which limits the use of exclusionary zoning by wealthy communities and has led to the creation of tens of thousands of housing units in the state — in two cases now before the State Supreme Court. One case is about whether New Jersey can dismantle the affordable housing agency and move its function to the executive branch. The other deals with the use of a formula favored by the governor that would essentially allow localities to decide how much affordable housing would be built.
The court should reject both changes and strongly reaffirm the Mount Laurel decision.