Planet Princeton

An open letter to the mayor and council on affordable housing in Princeton

To Mayor Liz Lempert, Council President Jenny Crumiller, and Council Members Jo Butler, Heather Howard, Lance Liverman, Bernard Miller and Timothy Quinn:

Princeton Community Housing is a non-profit developer, manager and advocate for affordable homes and is the largest provider of low- and moderate-income rental homes in Princeton.  Over five decades, Princeton Community Housing has worked collaboratively with the Princeton government and has developed and managed Princeton Community Village, Elm Court and Harriet Bryan House, as well as homes at Griggs Farm and other locations throughout town.

We have always supported the Mt. Laurel Doctrine – that each community in the state must provide, through its zoning codes, its fair share of a variety of housing options so that persons of all incomes may have an opportunity to find homes in their chosen community.

We were very disappointed to learn that on January 10, a trial expected to continue well into February began in the Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton.  The goal of this proceeding, which is being advanced by Princeton and four other municipalities, is to obtain the lowest possible fair share housing allocation.  Each municipality has appropriated $50,000 to cover the costs.  The Mercer trial will be the second attempt to validate the allocations advocated by an expert hired by the municipalities.  A similar 2016 trial in Middlesex County resulted in a finding that the municipal methodology failed, in almost all respects, to conform to the methodology ordered by the Supreme Court in 2015.

Far more important than a municipal fair share number is the development of a realistic compliance plan that results in zoning that permits a variety of housing options that can serve persons of all incomes.  In Princeton, a public process to build consensus on a compliance plan has been at a standstill since mid-2015 while legal maneuvers to reduce the fair share have taken precedence.  With respect to low- and moderate-income homes, concern has been expressed that each affordable home must be financed by construction of four market-rate homes. Princeton Community Housing has demonstrated throughout its history that affordable homes can be created without sole reliance on inclusionary 80/20 zoning strategies, and we will continue to create affordable homes without reliance on 80/20 financing.

Every day we see the growing need for affordable homes. The lack of a sufficient number of homes at all price points prevents seniors from remaining in their community, forces workers to commute long distances, discourages employers from locating or expanding their businesses here, hinders economic growth, and limits the socioeconomic diversity that so many in Princeton appreciate.

We urge the Mayor and Council to end the fair share litigation by following the example of over 90 other NJ municipalities  – negotiate a fair share allocation now utilizing the mediation process offered by the court, so that we can move forward together to plan and provide the homes that we all agree are needed.

We look forward to continuing our work to ensure that Princeton will remain an inclusive, income diverse, vibrant community of opportunity for persons of all backgrounds.

Best regards,

Rich Gittleman

Mr. Gittleman is the president of the board of  trustees for Princeton Community Housing.

 

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  • OnGrover

    Agreed. …I completely support the sentiments expressed in this article too. PCH has done a great job and should be supported by our elected officials..who are democrats? It’s perplexing.

  • FreshAir

    Very nice solution, John. Not long ago, COAH determined Princeton had fulfilled its legal obligation. Council & our Affordable Housing Board have always wanted to do better than average, to Princeton’s credit.
    PCH is a developer. Princeton’s influential developer/ planner cohort shares wishes, not solid numbers. Their mission & conflict of interest speak, not necessarily reality. With endless pressure to build out our town, it’s great that Council went to court. Impartial, reasonable minds are really needed for development issues, because they forever change our environment.
    Struggling Princeton families have been harmed, by a plutocracy “doing good” with the public purse. The burden of doing more than is legally required here really needs to fall on the wallets of the philanthropic by choice, not on everyone’s local property tax bill.

  • Dan D’Menny

    Just doesn’t make sense. There are thousands of moderately priced units of rental housing 10 miles away by train/bus in South Lawrence or Trenton. These neighborhoods need solid renters and home-owners to turn around.

    It is a weird quirk in NJ’s laws, the same ones that created 600+ separate municipalities, that each town has to have a certain ratio of this or that kind of housing when towns nearby can supply market needs so much more efficiently.

  • Parker

    Well said! PCH raises an important issue. It is sad to see the Mayor use tax dollars to litigate against affordable housing. Mediation would be a more efficient and civilized approach.

  • John Heilner

    Thanks, PCH, for raising this issue. I for one did not realize that so many NJ municipalities have settled their requirement by negotiation through mediation. All we’re doing is making lawyers rich by insisting on litigation, rather than mediation. Especially after the NJ Supreme Court ruling this week that each town’s obligation must also take into account the very long, so-called “gap period” when COAH rule-making ground to a halt. I suspect that Princeton will be just fine despite this ruling, as we have always been a leader in affordable housing.

    The fact remains, however, that we need more. Our 80/20 requirement of developers has worked well. So well that there is no lack of developer interest in building (and tearing down and building) in Princeton. There is no way to know exactly what the optimal requirement should be. But experience indicates that developers are happy to build with a 20% set aside requirement. Let’s try 30% and see what happens! This will increase our affordable housing stock at no cost to taxpayers. If after two years developers don’t show up……then we can always go back to 25% or 20%.

  • FreshAir

    Princeton’s taxpaying residents deserve fairly calculated numbers, not undue burden. Thanks should go to Princeton Council, for ensuring the load we taxpayers must bear here becomes & remains equitable. PCH has a conflict of interest.

  • FreshAir

    The drama of tail wagging the dog in our School District is offering enough concern for taxpayers these days. So, it’s sad to read PCH’s lack of interest in economic sustainability here too. Providing affordable housing more complicated than just setting out to do good:
    1) We’ve reached a serious tipping point in Princeton, when helping others with local taxpayer dollars is driving out those the well-intended want to retain & attract here. More than ironic, middle & low income families are suffering because financial impact & sustainability aren’t fully examined.
    2) The affordable homes Princeton owns are an expense over time. Fees, administration, maintenance/upkeep, & property management become expenses taxpayers bear. Legalities occur at time of transfer, with occupants, etc. Like any home ownership, these are expensive commitments requiring energy.
    3) Princeton owns a sizable number of affordable housing options in places like Palmer Square, Griggs Farm & Washington Oaks. Princeton offers affordable home sales, has massive amounts of University/student & rental housing, & has the 80/20 in place. Calculations indicate our efforts as a community are impressive, exceed those of others, & may exceed legal requirements. The ratio of taxpaying households to subsidized in Princeton shows this.
    4) To receive fair numbers for taxpayers, without pressure from those with conflicts of interest, the legislature determines reasonable affordable housing requirements. It’s therefore best for the court system to settle these matters. Council is appropriately turning to the courts. Thank you, Council.
    5) Our municipality has been an excellent supporter of PCH, working collaboratively with this agency. This has allowed PCH full ownership of Princeton real estate, a guaranteed income stream, & growth. PCH has roots in other communities, but, it’s our town, Princeton, that has supported the mission & growth of PCH more than any other.
    6) Having done so much already, beyond reasonable expectations, Princeton’s 80/20 rule offers a simple, elegant solution to increase affordable housing in line with growth over time. It appropriately places future costs on developers who profit enormously regardless… not on struggling, mom & pop taxpayer who can’t print money. This is terrific, since Princeton taxpayers already support huge affordable housing costs for existing offerings.
    Much support, respect, appreciation, & contributions to PCH’s wonderful work have also been given to PCH by the town of Princeton. The lack of gratitude coming from PCH today is disappointing. Fortunately for PCH & it’s President’s desire for more, Princeton isn’t the only cow on the farm. Hopewell & other area communities need to expand their affordable offerings.

  • Pat Palmer

    Here here. I completely support the sentiments expressed in this article.

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