The 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.”