They didn’t get back everything they were seeking, but affordable housing advocates are ecstatic that New Jersey’s new budget restores $15 million to efforts to subsidize construction and rehabilitation of low- and moderate-income housing.

Roughly $60 million in funds that were originally intended for housing are still being used for other purposes, but the Legislature restored $15 million that Gov. Phil Murphy in his original budget blueprint would have redirected into the state budget.

“It’s not being diverted for the first time, and so it is absolutely a terrific step in the right direction,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

“That money really signals that there’s a return to public investment and public support for the creation of homes that people can afford here in the Garden State,” she said.

Despite Murphy’s campaign promises, and a recommendation from his transition committee that studied housing issues, the March budget proposal diverted the money from the Fair Housing Trust Fund. But that was changed by the Legislature and not line-item vetoed.

“It’s certainly not as much as the state needs but it is absolutely a sign of leadership,” Berger said.

Berger said the Department of Community Affairs now must evaluate a “pipeline of development opportunities” that has backed up over time, to see what projects are ready to go.

“It’s hard to say exactly right now how far that money will go or which communities it will go to because the trust fund has been depleted for almost a decade,” Berger said.

Affordable-housing development has slowed in the state, in part because the Council on Affordable Housing was temporarily dissolved under Gov. Chris Christie, who disliked the series of court rulings requiring affordable housing opportunities in every New Jersey city and town.

The courts are now in charge of affordable housing quotas and more than 200 municipalities have reached settlements with the Fair Share Housing Network about their obligations. There doesn’t appear to be much buzz or interest in the Legislature to get back involved.

“There’s public investment and private investment for the first time in a decade coming into our urban communities,” Berger said. “So I think what we really need to do is focus on what we have right now and make sure we can make that work.”

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