TRENTON — Is less-densely-populated South Jersey the answer to the state's affordable housing crunch?

That was one possible solution (offered by a Central Jersey official) put forward Wednesday when state lawmakers heard from advocates, municipal officials and the public about what should be done.

As part of the protracted state budget negotiations resolved just a few weeks ago, the Legislature restored $15 million in subsidies for construction and rehabilitation of these properties, though another $60 million originally earmarked for those purposes is currently designated elsewhere.

New Jersey's courts have been in charge of housing quotas since Gov. Chris Christie took steps to suspend the Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, with an eye toward its eventual dismantling. Wednesday's public hearing was an effort by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee to gauge interest in renewed legislative control.

"There's a consensus that we need affordable housing. There's a consensus that it's a real need. The solution that this Legislature is looking for is, how do we do that?" said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, echoing committee chair Benjie Wimberly's, D-Passaic, request for ideas.

One potential fix floated by several speakers, including former Bernards Mayor Albert LiCata, was simply to reinstate COAH. But Hopewell Township Committeeman John Hart proposed something more intricate: attempting to evenly distribute the Garden State's highest-in-the-nation population density by moving south, rather than trying to revamp already-crowded neighborhoods.

"I think you should look at other areas and towns in South Jersey, areas where we can help other towns instead of trying to make towns where there is no town," Hart said.

A concern raised by Sharon Barker, vice president and COO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, was that new housing needs to be made not just available, but accessible and barrier-free. Barker's husband has mobility issues and the couple has run into roadblocks in their search for a first-floor property.

"We're not looking for units, we're looking for homes," she said. "Everyone's home is a little different, and you afford and you look for the specifications you need for your situation."

Tim Doherty, executive director and CEO of Robbinsville-based Project Freedom, said the demand for housing for New Jersey's low- to moderate-income families is a constant.

"To say that there is enough affordable housing is just fake news," he said.

Sign up for the WPG Talk Radio 104.1 Newsletter

Get South Jersey news and information e-mailed to you every week.