Not So Fast: Housing Decisions Must Support Lower Income Residents

princeton letter_2To the Editor:

Last week, an open letter was written to Mayor and Council from a neighborhood consortium comprised of residents who live on Jefferson Road, Franklin Avenue, Harris Road, and Carnahan Place. The letter was written and signed by no less than 47 people, and seems to imply that residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson community are in support of particular aspects of the letter regarding the development of affordable housing sites referenced in its content.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and what is more startling is that the letter makes a veiled attempt to both speak for and represent the people and the opinion of the Witherspoon-Jackson community without one attached signature from anyone who lives here, and a pre-emptive warning strike to Mayor and Council
that the decisions made with regard to the development of the Franklin Avenue lot site will be met with strong opposition and impact future electability.

Since when did any consortium or group of people speak for the Witherspoon-Jackson community other than those of us
who live here? Certainly not in 2010 when property taxes doubled and tripled in some cases , forcing families to sell, and negatively impacting racial diversity and the socio-economic mix of a proud

While those who live within close proximity to the Avalon Bay development share concerns on the impact it will have on the neighborhood, the Franklin Avenue parking site is situated in the center of town and in the only area that historically has promoted affordability and cultural diversity.

The fact that the letter also recalls that Jackson Street (where only people of color lived) was replaced by Palmer Square residences is laughable for two reasons…it’s not near the Jefferson Road and Moore Street neighborhood, and it happened over 50 years ago… and while absolutely relevant to the African American community, has not now or ever held any significance to those who live on Jefferson Road, Moore Street, Harris Road, or Carnahan Place.
Mayor and Council have responsibility for all of the citizens of this town, and the decisions they make must represent a broad consensus of all the people who live here. To bend, bow, or break for the wishes of a few, who no matter how packaged or presented want only to promote their own agenda, would be unfair and discriminatory.

In the coming months, Princeton along with other towns in New Jersey will receive their “fair share” affordable housing obligation. It will be up to leadership to insure that what comes after will allow
people of low income, immigrants, and the disadvantaged the ability to live and work here, educate their children here, and not be victimized or negatively impacted by exclusionary zoning.

Respectfully submitted,
Leighton Newlin

Mr. Newlin serves on the board of the Princeton Housing Authority. The authority manages affordable housing projects in Princeton.


  1. “Certainly not in 2010 when property taxes doubled and tripled in some cases , forcing families to sell, and negatively impacting racial diversity and the socio-economic mix of a proud neighborhood.”

    Those taxes did not raise themselves. They were raised by Democrats. Yet people keep voting “D” over and over again expecting different results. The more that COAH continues and the more that local governments pursue “social engineering” projects the worse it gets and the less “affordable” housing becomes. Ironic, isn’t it?

  2. I agree 100% with Mr Newlin, although I would add that although the previous letter purported to be from residents of the Jefferson Road area, not all the signers were, in fact, residents of that area. It is nonetheless true that none of the signers are residents of the W-J neighborhood. I would also take issue with another claim in the earlier letter, specifically, that the path along Guyot Stream is under threat from some unspecified town plan. I have never heard of any such plan, and I firmly protest such wanton rumor-mongering.

    1. The possibility of making Harris a through street was raised as early as 2005 when rezoning was underway to enable the sale of the hospital. I lived at that intersection until recently and was involved in those discussions.

  3. After reading “Not So Fast …”, written in response to “A Cri de Coeur”, I was left with the impression that within Princeton there is an elite society of powerful individuals, known as the “few” who have the power to shape elections, control the outcome of developments in Princeton, and impose their
    secret agenda, an agenda that is both unfair and discriminatory. Of course, this impression is somewhat shaped by concurrently with reading the letter also reading a Dan Brown novel (author of The Da Vinci Code, etc.), who always has provides conspiracies at the highest levels.

    If only those signers had such power, and could control developments in Princeton and could impose their secret agenda – imagine the outcome. As one of the signers, and speaking imaginatively only for myself, I could imagine our power and agenda resulting in Avalon Bay being a much more inviting structure for Princeton and my neighborhood. Our power would be used
    such that architects would be impressed with a structure that doesn’t look like
    a towering prison, affordable housing advocates would be pleased with the 40% affordable housing requirement we imposed through our agenda, neighbors would be glad that it wouldn’t tower over their small houses, parents would be glad that much less than 280 or so units were built so our schools could handle all the new students moving into town. Is this unfair or discriminatory?

    Next, our power and agenda (or at least my power and agenda) would be used to slow down all the new development in Princeton to ensure that
    the facilities and space at the public schools aren’t strained or overcrowded, and that teachers and staff get sufficient pay raises and health insurance such that they are motivated to keep teaching in our public schools. Is
    this unfair or discriminatory?

    Then I would use my power and agenda to slow down all the new development in Princeton so we don’t overburden the roads with more and more speeding cars – part of my secret agenda to ensure that my kids can walk safely to the bus, to the library, to CP pool or into town. As part of my agenda, I even want to take a jog from my house, through town and safely make it back home – a feat that is becoming more and more challenging with the increased traffic. Are these goals of my agenda unfair or discriminatory?

    As downtown Princeton gets more and more developed (build-baby-build), I’d like to preserve some of the land in the downtown for a park. In ten or fifteen years we won’t have the opportunity to set aside an acre for a park in a densely developed, downtown neighborhood in Princeton. Assuming we
    all can afford to live here in ten or fifteen years, we’ll be wishing someone had
    the forethought in 2015 to slow down the development, absorb all the new residents (kids, cars, needed tax increases, etc.) and connect the dots – ”Why didn’t they take this last parcel of land in downtown Princeton and build a park?” Unfortunately, I’ve seen it far too often in other places I’ve lived and would like to avoid the same mistakes here.

    So, is this agenda unfair or discriminatory?

    1. The intention is not to be unfair or discriminatory, but many people need or would like housing in Princeton, and if we don’t plan for new housing, they will not be able to find a place in our community. So who are these people? They are our children. They are our children’s teachers. They are the people who serve us in stores and daycare centers. They are a part of our community, and we owe them a home in our town. Let’s work together to build those homes.

      1. SFB, while I agree totally with your sentiments, I don’t believe that we can apply the COAH rules in such a manner – i.e., a Princeton Preference. It is my understanding that we cannot put the teachers at the top of the list, current residents at the top of the list, employees in town at the top of the list, or even homeless people in Princeton at the top of the list.

        It is my understanding that if we could have preferences for certain groups of people, such as current Princeton residents, teachers, etc. then we would have far exceeded our quota. However, the FAQs for COAH state that we are not permitted to have a municipal preference. I’ve copied what I believe to be the applicable FAQ and pasted it below. If my understanding is correct, our children, our teachers, etc. are placed in the same category with everyone else in the region, not higher. This is not my area of expertise, but is my understanding correct?

        206. Question: Is a regional preference permitted in UHAC?

        Answer: Although not explicitly stated in the most recent version of UHAC, the regional preference remains an option that is consistent with COAH’s methodology, which determines the municipal fair share on a State and regional basis. For the same reason, a municipal preference is not permitted.

        1. I believe that FAQ 302 answers my question above. It seems that we can have a regional preference only if a local ordinance is adopted but under no circumstances can we have a local community preference.

          302. Question: Can a household living or working in the local community be given preference for occupancy or ownership of an affordable unit over other applicants within the region?

          Answer:No, local preference is not permitted. COAH only allows preference to be given to households that live or work in the host municipality’s COAH housing region. A
          local ordinance must be adopted before an Administrative Agent can use regional preference in the selection process.

      2. ” They are a part of our community, and we owe them a home in our town.”

        No, we don’t. It is NOT the job of government to “provide homes” in our town. Misguided social engineering by people who have a very hard time saying “oh, that’s too bad” or “I’m sorry.”

      3. If we want to build homes for those who already live in Princeton, or even for those who work in Princeton, the state controlled-price housing regulations are not the appropriate vehicle, as Bill states. State controlled-price affordable housing was designed to open up housing opportunities in NJ towns to people who do not currently live in them and to offer them economic and educational opportunities that they currently do not have.

        There are towns in the area that are fairly homogenous economically and in their housing type. This is not the case in
        Princeton. Princeton is diverse economically (for instance 12% of our schoolchildren are on the free or reduced lunch program, Demographic Study for Princeton Public Schools, July 2015, p. 33).

        The university does provide affordable housing for their faculty and staff, and I believe that some businesses in town do this. Employers can provide affordable housing for their employees, but this is not counted as fulfilling any state requirement for affordable housing (for instance, the university’s units are not listed on Princeton’s list of “Housing Restricted to Low and Moderate Income Households in Princeton”).

        1. Council’s failure to count our academic community living in low/moderate level housing signals the failure of our leadership to fairly present data about our total population load on town resources & taxpayers. Thousands of dwellings, well under 1000 square feet & described as “affordable” with access to our public schools, are advertised by institutions & occupied by real, living, breathing people. The data used today, for planning without these residents counted, is severely flawed.

            1. CommCon- Haven’t you heard? Just like “The Wicked Witch”, COAH Is dead…killed by an insufficient foundation that couldn’t withstand a natural storm. Problem is COAH’s Winged Monkeys are still around. People who can’t change want those monkeys to remain relevant, even though deep down they know they’re just monkeys. Tired Munchkins await the arrival of Glinda the Good Witch, so we can blink our eyes in the sunlight once more. Read the news about the Supreme Courts ruling, the new role of State Trial Judges, and quotas on a town to town basis. We just need Princeton’s leaders to stand up & speak about our huge subsidized academic population & count what we already have accomplished together. Then we can focus on the REAL need of real neighbors based on real numbers. Sadly, Council & Princeton’s old guard are so tied to the blinding light of the Ivy way. That way is so powerful that otherwise strong men cannot count or be reasonable. And, the agencies working to house people in town have never worked together. cannot keep clicking my heels saying “there’s no place like home”, hoping to see some love & respect that is real again. This is my hood but it is run by those with power, ambition, and wings.

              1. I should have said “was” not “is.” The whole CONCEPT is terribly flawed.

    2. Every time you use the term above “our power and agenda” substitute the words “other people’s money,” i.e. “Next (other people’s money would be used …) ‘Then I would use (other people’s money to) slow down … ‘I’d like to (use other people’s money to) preserve some of the land ” and you’ll get to the unfair and discriminatory aspects of your theoretical dreams of social engineering power.

      See how that works?

    3. Biil, We have a historic plaza in downtown Princeton in the area called “Monument Drive”. Rarely do people sit there, use the space, or reflect on its history. The face of adjoining Monument Hall was a bit of disgrace, the last time I walked there. And, for all the Planners spewing dreams, not one was able to suggest a way to save the stately post office in our town center. The lack of appreciation and care for what we already have in Princeton concerns me. The history around us is worth observing & preserving. Maybe we can both agree that the beauty of the town, as it is now, is threatened by people who want to build something new or make something “better”. As for all the talk about fast drivers & people threatening pedestrians, don’t let our ramped up summons happy police force paint a brutal picture of town life and make you believe your neighbors are a threat. Those who are really part of this place love the people in it (more than the gas in their tanks) and slow down. If you live here long enough, you stop for others well before the crosswalk. I suggest you tell your kids they live in a safe town. I hope you teach them an appreciation for the town as it is AND the people in it. The most horrific fatal accidents in town in recent years have been caused by young drivers/drivers under 30 (except the last one on Library Pl.) So, you might also teach your kids to drive well, so as not to add to the tragic loss of life we have had on our local roads. It’s indeed sad that AB is big and ugly. That exchange traded AB corp. has the power and deep pockets to build big AND sue everyone into submission. It was never going to be any other way, because its all about the money. Let’s pray for smart town leaders who will dialogue with the taxpayers instead of planners, and get the big picture on what Princeton already is. Please wear some reflective clothing when you run, so you feel safer and can always join in the conversation.

  4. One bright light, Mr. Newlin, is that the historic preservation of your neighborhood will likely be approved. This will allow you and your neighbors to stop the wrecking balls and developers. Other noted, architecturally historic neighborhoods of small homes in Princeton have been denied that opportunity. They will be lost soon. Your neighborhood will be saved and celebrated. That makes many people here happy.

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