Planet Princeton

Settlement talks break down in Princeton affordable housing litigation

About two months after Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert announced that the municipality reached a tentative settlement with a group that advocates for affordable housing across the state, the deal regarding the town’s affordable housing obligations is off and a judge will now decide how many units the town must build.

Princeton officials have claimed that the advocacy group, Fair Share Housing, tried to change the terms of the settlement, but Fair Share Housing has denied the claim.

“We are disappointed that Princeton is attempting to find a way to build fewer homes that working families, seniors and people with disabilities can afford by refusing to proceed with the settlement we reached with them in principle two months ago,” said Anthony Campisi, spokesman for Fair Share Housing Center. “These homes are desperately needed. Despite our willingness to abide by the terms both sides had agreed to, we will now have to resolve this matter through litigation.”

Superior Court judges throughout the state have been tasked with assigning hundreds of municipalities an “obligation,” or number of affordable units that the municipality must include in zoning plans for the period from 1999 to 2025. Affordable housing advocates and many developers  push for a higher number of units, and municipalities often advocate for fewer units.

Princeton joined several other Mercer County municipalities in litigation challenging Fair Share Housing’s recommended obligations for municipalities about two years ago and is one of the few remaining towns that has not settled.

Town officials issued a brief press release about the case on Tuesday afternoon. Experts representing the municipality argue the town’s obligation for the period from 1999 to 2025 should be 457 affordable housing units. According to town officials, Fair Share Housing estimated the obligation should be 1,495 units. The court’s expert, according to town officials, determined Princeton’s obligation to be 501 units.

The court case has recently concluded and we are awaiting the Judge’s decision, as well as
maintaining ongoing settlement discussions with the Fair Share Housing Center,” reads the press statement by Business Administrator Marc Dashield. “Princeton’s mayor and council are united in their desire to achieve a resolution and resume the important business of planning for future affordable housing that strengthens the community’s diversity, sustainability and economy.”

Princeton has spent more than $180,000 for special legal counsel and consulting fees related to the case. That total does not include the fees for the town’s municipal lawyer.

Three municipalities in Mercer County reached pre-trial settlements: Ewing, Hamilton and Robbinsville. All three settlements have been approved by the court and are now being implemented, including the redevelopment of the former General Motors site in Ewing, homes built by experienced local non-profits such as HomeFront in Hamilton, and the preservation of affordability in the Mercer Mobile Home Park and expansion of affordable options in the Town Center in Robbinsville.
Lawrence last month signed a settlement agreement establishing a 1,110-unit obligation. That settlement provided for a mix of development and redevelopment, including allowing for the redevelopment of some of the parking lots of Quakerbridge Mall and outmoded office parks in the township, while preserving more rural areas of Lawrence.
East Windsor has approved a settlement establishing a 736-unit obligation. The township will meet its obligations in part by designating several sites in the township for inclusionary development. The municipality has also agreed to support a 100-percent affordable development and new supportive housing for people with disabilities while providing a special focus on very-low income families and people with disabilities.
More than 120 towns across the state have signed settlement agreements establishing obligations totaling more than 36,000 homes.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • FreshAir

    You will find the citizens working for the town on these issues are very sincere. They’ve done a good job thusfar &, for the most part, something every Princeton resident can be proud of. Keep in mind our demographics. Remember that very large number of undergrad & graduate students our town also hosts. Add students housing to the amount of affordable homes our town provides & you’ll realize our service to those on the lowest income rung are both impressive and outnumber the efforts of many other towns.

  • FreshAir

    Liz, you are a numbers person. You’ll find that Princeton has been very active in providing affordable housing for a long time. Roughly 1300 affordable units have been established in town to date, so 12% to 13% of Princeton’s homes are legally classified as affordable today, Council is appropriately relying on the court’s next decision & appropriately questioning the pressure from Developers (like Fair Share), to determine the TRULY fair obligation that Princeton must bear. Mind you, other communities in our region have done less. Ideally, ALL towns will offer their fair share of opportunity to those struggling to keep a foothold on the very lowest economic rung.
    I’m sure you understand that taxpayers fund the purchase, property management fees, repair & upkeep costs, legal fees, & asset management fees of our town’s affordable offerings either directly OR through fees paid to property owners/developers like FairShare. The citizens involved on Council & our town boards seem to be taking their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously these days, knowing the final number will impact our taxes & most critically our struggling middle class. This is an area where I find no reason to criticize town leadership, who were MANDATED to turn to the court system for a decision.

  • FreshAir

    Fair Share, YES, Princeton Community Housing (PCH), & similar companies ARE developers. They purchase & own the lands they develop, pay staff & directors to manage their holdings & assets, & charge towns administrative fees for property management. Our Council IS taking on these developers, by appropriately questioning their calculations. AH Developers are “special interest” groups who, (like so many special interest groups latching onto Princeton) want larger than appropriate servings of our land & the generous cash lined breadbasket Princeton taxpayers support. It is our lower middle & middle class that is hurting most here today.

  • Dan D’Menny

    Not to mention the vanishing open space, and burden on the school system

  • Simon

    As always, the middle class will get squeezed by having to pay for the houses of others in addition to having to bear the heavy financial burden of their own houses. Liberals are still trying to figure out why Donald Trump won the Presidency and why so many are leaving New Jersey for more affordable states. It’s not rocket science, folks.

  • Liz Winslow

    Sure. There’s infinite money for legal challenges and bids for Westminster Choir College – which on 3/28 the school board compared to the Louisiana Purchase – but $0 for affordable housing, $47/household for charter expansion which might beg the question whether PPS was God’s gift to education, or any number of other things.

    Long live socially acceptible hypocrisy.

  • Cecie

    The Council and planning board are afraid of rich and powerful developers, and crawl and truckle when they should be defying special interests and back-door favors. Last night’s Council discussion of cluster housing on the town’s last 3 large parcels is a prime example: apparently Princeton’s government would rather hand a $20 million bonus deal to the Bryce Thompson clan than make any real effort to preserve true open space for the rest of us.

  • Blake Cash

    I’m not quite sure how the governing body maintains their balance.

    They want Princeton to be a sanctuary city for those who can afford it, Kind of questions their sincerity.

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