Planet Princeton

The Land Preservation and Affordable Housing Connection

Since moving to Princeton in 2012, I’ve been continually impressed by, and grateful for, the extent of land preservation that has taken place in the area.

On bike rides between Princeton and the Delaware, I’m always struck by the beauty of the landscape, and think about the impact of organizations like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the New Jersey Agricultural Land Trust, and the importance of the state’s support for land preservation.

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Within (and near) Princeton, I treasure the Herrontown Woods, Mountain Lakes Preserve, Autumn Hills Reservation, the Institute Woods, and Mercer Meadows, to name only a few favorites, and note the contributions of organizations like the Friends of Princeton Open Space and the D&R Greenway Trust. I love seeing these places change throughout the year, a slow kaleidoscope of plant colors and animal activity.

At the same time, it’s hard not to be just as struck by the challenges that open space preservation can create for issues like housing affordability.

The less land that is available for producing affordable housing (meaning housing that households can afford based on their income, more or less 2.8 times household income) – and the more restrictive communities are about producing housing that members of the community can afford – the harder it is to produce affordably-priced homes.

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There’s really no arguing that New Jersey is a costly place to live.

  • New Jersey is the most expensive place to live nationally for households 65 and older. Almost half of all 65+ households in New Jersey pay more than 30 percent of their household income on housing costs, compared with just one-third of 65+ households nationally. (Source: NJ Future)
  • The number of New Jersey residents who spend more than $2,000 per month on housing is double the national average. (Source: NJ.com)
  • Nationally, New Jersey is second only to California in share of households who spend more than 50% of their income on housing – 31% to 32% — and is on track to surpass California based on current trends. (Source: National Center for Housing Policy)

The wonderful thing about towns is that you see people. The wonderful thing about countryside is that you don’t.

When I bike into town, it’s rare that I don’t run into someone I’m happy to see along the way. In our extremely structured lives, these are unexpected treats. When I walk with my dog in the woods, it’s a time for mental quiet (and chasing squirrels).

1404227437000-08University-BikesUnsurprisingly, my bias is for towns to do what they do well, and for open space to do what it does well. And the middle ground should be avoided.

PrincetonPalmerSquareMThe links between land preservation, housing affordability, town vitality, and a cultivation of community have many ramifications. Not to mention that each of these topics alone deserves a dedicated column.

But as the town of Princeton embarks on a review of residential zoning rules — and in the wake of recent historical preservation and land preservation decisions — my simple point today is that one thing has to do with the other.

Nat Bottigheimer

Nat Bottigheimer is a professional transportation planner and consultant with a background in public policy and real estate economics. He is currently working on TOD, streetcar, and bus dedicated lane planning projects in the Washington, DC region. He was a member of the Alexander Street University Place Task Force, and is a current member of the Princeton Traffic and Transportation and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees. He's married to Eve Ostriker, an astrophysicist at Princeton University; and has two daughters, one at PHS. The most recent family addition is Basil, a one-year old labradoodle who gives the term "active transportation" new meaning.

  • Clifford Zink

    Nat – you raise several interesting and important questions. Yes open space preservation and affordable housing are and will become increasingly connected, but most of the preserved open space is not where affordable housing should be located, and it’s providing significant conservation benefits while limiting suburban sprawl. Lessons from urban renewal and other affordable housing projects clearly show that some affordable housing needs to be in middle class neighborhoods for the benefit of all residents. Regulatory bias against affordable housing and subsidies for middle and upper class housing are some of the biggest hurdles, and yes Princeton’s zoning review provides an opportunity for some redress.

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