Governor Christie Abolishes COAH

by:  Michael L. Rich

The June 30, 2011 edition of The Star-Ledgerreports that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is abolishing the Council on Affordable Housing, known as COAH, in a move he says is designed to streamline government ("Gov. Christie Abolishes N.J. Council On Affordable Housing").

COAH is the governmental panel that administers New Jersey’s affordable housing laws.  It has been under persistent attack by some since its creation, which attacks have only intensified since Christie’s election.  The Department of Community Affairs will take over administrative duties and enforce affordable housing laws, according to yesterday’s announcement.  Among other announced moves or consolidations, the State Planning Commission and Office of Smart Growth would be condensed from the Department of Community Affairs into the Department of State.  The Governor proclaims that these changes will serve to cut down on bureaucracy and save taxpayers money. 

The Governor’s reorganization plan reportedly does not require legislative approval, but apparently the Legislature could still disapprove of the move within 60 days.  The Governor pronounced in the Plan:  “I’ve always believed that municipalities should be able to make their own decisions on affordable housing without being micromanaged and second-guessed from Trenton.”  He further stated:  “The Department of Community Affairs will work with municipalities on affordable housing, not against them.”

It did not take long for affordable housing advocates to express their opposition.  Kevin Walsh, associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center advocacy group, for example, immediately responded that “Christie is giving himself greater power to frustrate the enforcement of fair housing policy.”  Others, while generally supportive, expressed some concerns as to what lies ahead.  For instance, Mike Cerra, a policy analyst for the League of Municipalities, stated that, while the League supports consolidating government to reduce the burden on taxpayers, his concern is losing protection for towns against litigation by developers established under COAH.  In related action, the State Supreme Court will soon  be hearing a League of Municipalities lawsuit regarding affordable housing obligations.

COAH has been on life support for more than a year now.  In January of this year, Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have abolished COAH because he disagreed with the affordable housing obligation that would have been imposed on towns under the proposed replacement legislation.  While it now seem almost certain that COAH, as we have known it, will be gone, it remains to be seen what exactly will arise in its place.

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