New report reignites debate over affordable housing in New Jersey

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 The Ethel R. Lawrence Homes was the first affordable housing complex built in the suburbs under the Mt. Laurel Doctrine. (Mark Lozier/Fair Share Housing Development)

The Ethel R. Lawrence Homes was the first affordable housing complex built in the suburbs under the Mt. Laurel Doctrine. (Mark Lozier/Fair Share Housing Development)

It’s been fought over for decades, but the subject of affordable housing in New Jersey remains very much unsettled.

And a new report commissioned by a group of more than 200 New Jersey municipalities offering a fresh estimate of affordable housing obligations over the next 10 years has caused another wave in already choppy waters.

Philadelphia firm Econsult Solutions estimated that the state needs about 37,700 new affordable homes over the next 10 years, just a fifth of what housing activists have been hoping for.

“We weren’t surprised by it,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill-based housing advocacy group.

“The municipalities in New Jersey — many of the wealthier ones, any way — have been fighting meeting their ‘fair share’ obligations for decades, and they found some experts that would help them do that.”

An estimate in a report previously commissioned by the Fair Share Housing Center put that number at just over 200,000 new affordable homes.

The see-sawing figures come as many New Jersey municipalities are submitting their own affordable housing plans to local courts, which took over jurisdiction of implementing the Fair Housing Act after Gov. Chris Christie dissolved the Council on Affordable Housing in 2011.

Michael Cerra, assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said the findings by Econsult Solutions were much more reasonable than the Fair Share Housing Center’s estimates.

Cerra said the fact that the report was even drafted at all shows a willingness on the part of the municipalities to voluntarily meet their obligations under the Fair Housing Act.

“These municipalities dug into their own pockets and paid for a report and a methodology in order to comply with their affordable housing obligations,” he said. “They should not be criticized for doing that. They should be commended.”

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