New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday proposed significant changes in determining required levels affordable housing across the state.

In February, Christie ordered a 90-day freeze on all activities of the state’s Council of Affordable Housing. He lifted that freeze a month later, but Christie has stated his intention to all but eliminate COAH, which for the previous 25 years has regulated how many affordable housing units New Jersey’s 566 municipalities were required to build.

A task force that Christie appointed shortly after he came into office in January has called New Jersey’s approach to providing affordable housing “irrevocably broken.” Over these years, only 40,000 units have been built in the state, well below the need, according to housing experts. And municipalities have long complained that COAH’s one-size-fits-all mandates sometimes forced them to expand beyond their respective general plans.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported in March that the task force had recommended that counties, and not the state, oversee local development plans and require 10% of all new housing be affordable. The newspaper quoted Michael Cerra, a senior legislative analyst with the New Jersey League of Municipalities, who saw the recommendation as “a simplified, less-costly solution” to achieving affordable housing goals.

What Christie wants to do is to eliminate affordable housing quotas as well as a 2.5% fee on commercial development, and allow municipalities to determine their own affordable housing needs while focusing on rehabilitation of existing housing.

His proposal requires legislative approval and would almost certainly be challenged in court by housing advocates who already are expressing concern about the feasibility of the governor’s and task force’s ideas, especially their implementation.

While quotas have never actually been established, New Jersey’s courts have on several occasions upheld rulings that towns must provide housing for lower-income people. How much, and who decides, are now the issue.

John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

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