Mayors from across the Garden State gathered at the Statehouse in Trenton Wednesday for the 24th Annual Mayors’ Legislative Day – an opportunity to meet with state lawmakers and commissioners and discuss important issues.

(Hemera Technologies, ThinkStock)

One topic that received a lot of attention was affordable housing.

Five years ago, shortly after taking office, Gov. Chris Christie abolished the Council on Affordable Housing because of objections to how many so-called affordable units towns were being forced to build, and the costs associated with that building.

In 2013, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that move was illegal, and ever since, the Christie administration and the Legislature have ignored orders by the High Court to establish new COAH guidelines.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled lower courts would assume the job or regulating affordable housing in the Garden State.

“The Legislature and the administration could not come to an agreement on how to deal with it, so what they did was throw it on the backs of the municipalities, by putting it in the courts and making each of us responsible for dealing with the problem that they should have addressed years ago,” Somerdale Mayor Gary Passanante said.

He said if lawmakers had worked out a plan to address the issue, local leaders would have been more than happy to comply and do what needed to be done, but specific guidance was never given.

“So now the Gold Dome says okay well, it’s not our problem, now the courts are dealing with it and you municipalities have to deal with it on your own,” he said. “That’s unfair and it puts towns that are trying to control costs in a very difficult situation. We don’t have the resources that our legislators have or the administration has to be able to deal with this problem to come up with a solution.”

Janice Mironov, mayor of East Windsor, agreed that the situation must be addressed.

“Because the Legislature and state officials have not dealt with the issue of affordable housing, at least 300 towns are now in court,” she said. “We’re spending millions of dollars on attorneys and planners instead of building affordable housing, we are now as towns caught in the middle of this morass and not due to any of our own inaction or deeds.”

Mironov said legislators in Trenton need to step up and deal with the issue in a bipartisan way.

“The approach needs to be not ideological, it needs to be sensible, achievable, and reasonable and funded, so that we’re also not putting on the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey additional burdens on the most heavily taxed property taxes in the nation,” she said. “The League of Municipalities has always been a supporter of the need for affordable housing, it’s an important goal, but it ought to be a statewide housing policy that makes sense based on geography and jobs and transportation and funds and land.”

Passanante added mayors have been talking about this issue for years, but have gotten nowhere.

“Sometimes you wonder whether they listen, but I do believe the Legislators do hear what we have to say, and they’re being genuine to the degree they can,” he said. “Unfortunately we have politics that get in the way of decision making all the time.”

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