Planet Princeton

Town of Princeton to Hire Three Consultants on Affordable Housing

houseThe Princeton Council voted unanimously Monday night to hire two affordable housing consultants, and plans to hire a third consultant later in the year.

Information from the consultants will be used in court if the town needs to defend what its considers fair in terms of its affordable housing obligation.

The town will pay Maser Consulting $10,500 to do conduct assessments of vacant land to see if adjustments should be made for the number of affordable units to be built by the town. A recent analysis by the Fair Share Housing Center suggests that the town of Princeton should be required to build 1,000 new affordable housing units by 2025.

The council also voted to hire Robert Burchell of Rutgers University for $231 per hour to analyze Princeton data and come up with his own figure for the number of affordable units the town should be required to build. Burchell was involved in generating the affordable housing numbers that the state released last year. The figures  included a zero obligation for Princeton for new affordable units.

The town was originally slated to approve the contract with Burchell last month, but the move to hire him as a consultant was controversial and the approval was postponed until Monday night.

Affordable housing advocates fear Burchell will low-ball the number of affordable units Princeton should be required to provide.

Residents Alice Small and Valerie Haynes, who are both trustees for the nonprofit Princeton Community Housing, expressed concerns about transparency regarding the information the consultants develop. In materials included in the Princeton Council’s agenda packet last month, Burchell was listed as an expert witness. The information he collects and provides to the town would be confidential based on an interpretation by the town’s lawyer that the information falls under attorney-client privilege.

“There should be a transparent, full discussion,” Small said before she was cut off because she exceeded the three-minute public comment time limit.

Haynes said she feared that a push for towns in the state to join together and “be roped together and asked to not do anything that might undercut effort of collective” will halt the process of coming up with new affordable housing requirements dead in its tracks.

Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual report on child well-being in the United States. New Jersey received its worst ranking for housing, ranking 50th for the percentage of children in a household with a high housing cost burden. About 891,000 children — 44 percent of all children in the state — lived in families that spent more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on housing-related expenses, including rent or mortgage, taxes and insurance, in 2013.

“It’s not an abstract problem, it is real people we are talking about,” Haynes said, referring to the study.

Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said a third consultant will be hired to analyze all of the data and figures from the consultants and the Fair Share Housing Center and come up with an independent number.

“We are taking a three-pronged approach. We won’t be going with just one number,” he said in response to affordable housing advocates.

Council President Bernie Miller said affordable housing in the single most important issue the town will wrestle with this year and probably next year.

“We have to come up with a number and be prepared to defend that number as a realizable number in front of the court,” he said. “A multi-pronged approach best thing we can do.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Alexi Assmus

    My understanding is that the municipal 2% cap is on the amount the tax levy can be raised — the levy is the total amount of taxes paid by municipal taxpayers and reflects the budget. Once the budget is set — the town computes the tax levy from that. Even if new ratables come online, my understanding is that the previous year’s levy (which does not reflect the new ratables) still cannot be raised by more than 2%.

    Please let me know your thoughts, but again my understanding is that the 2% state mandated caps on school budgets and municipal levies (I should say!) are a way to defund government services (municipal and public education) — as Governor Christie hopes.

    With the 2% cap on school budgets and municipal levies, the schools and the town’s public services lose out as the population of the town grows. There are more kids and adults but not more tax revenue to pay to educate them and provide public services.

  • Taxes

    Thanks for mentioning the 2% cap. It applies to the town and schools differently.

    The town can increase its tax rate on all properties by 2% a year. If the tax base doubles, so does the amount of taxes collected.

    The schools can only increase its budget by 2% a year. If the tax base doubles, the school budget remains the same.

  • Alexi Assmus

    Princeton has and does welcome residents of all socio-economic backgrounds. We are a sanctuary town. The town has been building affordable housing since 1938 and continues to build affordable housing during the 3rd round, even as some other municipalities stopped building while COAH affordable housing obligations were contested by the NJ Builders Ass and
    Fair Share Housing. My understanding from attending various Board/Commission meetings and reading the local news is that over 10% of our housing is affordable, including many rental apartments in older homes in the central Princeton neighborhoods, and that 12% of the children in our public school
    district are on free or reduced lunches. (I mean affordable as defined by COAH price limits — but not necessarily under COAH jurisdiction, eg not deed-restricted and not necessarily following the requirement for tri-county marketing).

    Numbers can be twisted and turned, and numbers are often used to get one’s own way or for political purposes — but they are still a good tool, like words. The growth in the number of housing units in town is an important number, as Council President Bernie Miller remarked in this article. The number of affordable housing units we commit to build in the next ten years will also strongly influence the number of new housing units, market or affordable that are built in town. New residential construction, whether it is market or affordable, often does not pay for itself — incremental tax revenues on residential development do not support the incremental costs to a community of the added residences. This can vary case by case, but building affordable housing as 20% affordable/ 80% market may be more expensive for the taxpayer in the long-term than building small numbers of 100% affordable units all over the town, as the former Borough did. There are people in Princeton struggling to pay property taxes or rents who are not living in controlled-price units. There is a balance here. The more housing we add, the more we may put a financial burden on those already living here who are not in controlled price housing.

    In addition to taxes, another thing to consider is the schools. The high school is overcrowded and the middle school is full. My children have class sizes in the middle and high school of 26-30 kids, with few exceptions. Does Princeton want to build a second high school and split its student population if it grows dramatically, building 5000 more units? Tremendous housing growth has already occurred in the Witherspoon Corridor neighborhoods — these neighborhoods will see a more than doubling of the number of housing units after residences currently under construction are completed (over 550 new housing units) — many of these new housing units have already been built. This will affect people’s daily commute, will lead to more busing of students at CP elementary, and may decrease the quality of life for people in these neighborhoods.

    In a final twist to all this, both the municipal and school
    budgets are under a 2% cap, which means that with few exceptions, the town will not be able to raise budgets to meet the needs of large numbers of new residents. For example, before this cap went in, the Princeton District used to increase
    its budget 3-4% a year. The school district can apply for waivers for increased student enrollment. They have done this recently, for the first time I believe; however the waivers do not pay the total cost of new schoolchildren. So the effect of increasing numbers of school children is less money to spend on each
    child. Prop 13 with its cut in California education funds has seriously harmed California schools.

  • guest

    I’d suggest some caution with those estimates. Princeton doesn’t build affordable units at a 1/8 ratio. 20% would be the minimum, under the town’s IZ program. Grigg’s Farm was moreover built at 50% affordable, and PCV, where some of the new affordables will almost definitely be located, is 100% affordable. Affordable obligations are also adjusted down if certain types of housing are added. Therefore 800 units per year is just not on the table under any circumstances, even using Fair Share’s figures.
    Perhaps instead of making it all about numbers, we should also be thinking about what type of community we want to be. A community that welcomes people of all socio-economic backgrounds? A community for households who are considered to be ‘fiscally-postive’ for the town? Or a community just for those rich enough to afford it?

  • UrbanProspector

    I think the question isn’t whether or not Princeton should provide affordable housing, but rather how much should they provide? Should Princeton provide 100 affordable units each year for the next 10 years? Assuming that only 1/8 units constructed is affordable, should Princeton be building 800 residential units each year for 10 years? I’m not suggesting an answer, rather pointing out the implications of the Fair Share Housing Center’s numbers.

  • It’s sad that our town is spending money to prepare to defend exclusionary housing policies in court.

  • Alexi Assmus

    I’m not sure what spending more than 30% of pre-tax income on housing related expenses means for children in that household. Mortgage and Princeton property taxes make up 30% of many middle class people’s pre-tax budget is my guess, particularly in young families. I don’t consider the children disadvantaged.

  • Community Conscience

    “About 891,000 children — 44 percent of all children in the state — lived in families that spent more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on housing-related expenses, including rent or mortgage, TAXES and insurance, in 2013.”

    So Council reacts by hiring consultants (raising TAXES). Simpler solution – reduce costs of government and LOWER PROPERTY TAXES to help keep housing costs lower. But they won’t do that …

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