The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Assemblyman Green's turn coming to be on affordable housing hot seat


Plainfielders can be forgiven if they don't spend much time focused on Assemblyman Jerry Green's SUPPOSEDLY REAL JOB as chair of the Assembly's Housing and Local Government Services committee.

Forgiven for two reasons: on the one hand, Jerry's fulminations and missteps in matters to do with Plainfield are constantly entertaining and diverting its denizens and on the other hand, Jerry never calls attention to his Assembly role if it's the least bit controversial.

Take the current situation: Jerry's blog calls attention to his bill (A-444) which would bar a person from being elected to a school board if, because of a past conviction, they would be unable to serve as a teacher in the district (see here). There are those who see this as a thinly-veiled quasi-bill of attainder aimed at longtime Plainfield community activist and BOE member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, who has made no secret of not seeing eye-to-eye with the Assemblyman on many occasions.

What goes with scant mention is that Sen. Lesniak's bill to dismantle the existing affordable housing settlement in New Jersey and replace it with one more to Gov. Christie's liking is coming before Assemblyman Green's Assembly committee soon as it wends its way to (inevitable?) legislative approval. Jerry only refers to the matter obliquely, posting a 'statement' from Gov. Chris Christie (see here), who says he is 'looking forward to working with Assemblyman Green'.

The Lesniak bill (S-1) was moved from committee to the floor of the Senate WITHOUT A CHANCE FOR PUBLIC INPUT (see story here), where it was subsequently passed, despite considerable opposition from a wide range of groups -- not just affordable housing advocates, I might add! -- (see story, including details of bill here). Though Lesniak touts it as a better solution, you will get a headache trying to understand the ins and outs of the bill.

But the bottom line is that many (including brave Senators Loretta Weinberg, Ron Rice and Shirley Turner) are questioning the fine points of the Lesniak proposal, including the Star-Ledger, which has editorialized TWICE in recent days -- once on the failure to have any public hearings (see here), and today in an editorial entitled 'Rehab this' (see here), that the bill needs much more work.

One of the provisions that caught my eye in the bill is that developers would be allowed to fulfill their affordable housing obligations by RENOVATING OTHER ALREADY-EXISITNG BUILDINGS IN A MUNICIPALITY instead of including new affordable housing units in the projects they are building. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is going.

That, plus the continuation of the practice of allowing towns to sell their affordable housing obligations to other communities, and you note a distinct aroma emanating from the new legislation, in my humble opinion.

Besides this, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services suggests in a letter of April 13 that the bill will not pass constitutional muster because the Legislature lacks statutory authority to amend the Fair Housing Act (see here).

So, as Assemblyman Green prepares to take up the legislation, there are a couple of germane questions for him to answer --
  • Will he schedule hearings on the bill and thus allow public input?

  • Will he consider the constitutionality of the bill?
Or will he simply, 'team player' that he is, move the bill out of committee and onto the Assembly floor?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Pat Ballard Fox said...

I personally think that being allowed to use these funds to rehab existing units occupied by homeowners who meet certain income limits is s good thing. The standard scope would be to bring them up to building code and eliminate structural and mechanical deficiencies. In the late 90's when I worked for the City of Plainfield we were approached by two communities who offered $1,000,000 - $2,000,000 in COAH funds over a two year period. I talked them into having the funds designated for rehab of existing units owned and occupied by Plainfield residents who met the income standard. At the time Plainfield had (and still has) a housing rehab program -- CHAP -- funded by Community Block Grants -- that does just that. CDBG supplies funding for deferred loans to bring owner occupied low-moderate income units up to code. If the politicians at that time had agreed to this offer we could have increased the numbers of people served by this program by 4 to 8 fold. According to the 2000 Housing Census more than 75% of Plainfield residential structures were built before 1920. There is a demand for this type of housing program and it doesn't add to the number of low income units in the city. Regardless of what one thinks about more affluent communities "taking their fair share of low income units" I think it is a shame to turn down help. It is the residents who are hurt or actually not being not helped. These funds ended up going to Elizabeth and I am sure their residents enjoyed all of the benefits a couple million dollars could buy. Elected officials need to think in practical solutions and benefits rather than being swayed by social engineering concepts.

Bob said...

Jerry Green and Lesniak need to go. They are obviously looking to their own pocketbooks and not the needs of the public. They are at this point beneath contempt and lower than a snake's belly. I hope the voters remember that come time to re-elect representatives. I will.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

I agree with Pat--there are certainly a lot of existing units in Plainfield that could and should be brought up to code. We hear so many complaints about this problem; perhaps something can be done about it. But like everything else, it takes political will. Sometimes you have to settle for the better option if you can't get the best one.

Anonymous said...

I don't even want affordable housing. I want good housing. I don't want people who need a ton of social services. I want to see professional people who make more than 60K -70K living here. Enough with the handouts and social services.

Let's take care of our neighbors, but no more.

Randy Schaeffer said...

Dan -- what is your objection to using funds to rehab existing housing stock?

It seems like a pretty good idea to me.


Dan said...

Using funds to rehab existing buildings is not in itself a bad idea -- the problem, in my mind, comes if a developer is allowed to bypass putting any affordable units in their project by rehabbing other dwellings.

A better solution would be some kind of mix.

To be allowed to build projects that would contain NO affordable units is not acceptable by my lights.

Alan Goldstein said...

Why are we focusing on more housing? We don't need more people.

We need better jobs that come from successful businesses. That would lead to smoothing out the income disparity in the city, by attracting people to Plainfield to work and live, and providing more and better opportunities for those already here.

I'd rather have new projects that are business oriented and income generating, without the added need for additional housing, regardless of income level, because we don't need more housing. Therefore rehabing existing structures with these monies should benefit the greatest number of people living here. It would lift the boats of many, and that of itself would have the effect of reducing the income disparity in Plainfield.

We should be careful before approving any development project with any new housing component. New housing sounds nice, and 'affordable' has a good ring to it, but increased supply may just result in increased supply, and lower overall values by virtue of the the basic laws of economics.

All else equal, if there is money to be had from any development project, we are better off improving what we have than using the same money to add to what we have. Quality, not quanity.

Anonymous said...

This whole town is "affordable".. No more!