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