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Comments by Princeton lawyer on affordable housing obligations stir controversy (updated)

Comments at the annual League of Municipalities meeting in Atlantic City by the lawyer who represents the Princeton Housing Board have led to criticism by affordable housing advocates.

Princeton lawyer Ed Schmierer spoke at a panel on affordable housing on Wednesday. A representative from Fair Share Housing who was at the seminar tweeted about his comments, claiming Schmierer suggested that Princeton and other towns should be able to pay Trenton to take on some of their affordable housing obligations. Schmierer says the claim is not true.

In New Jersey, municipalities originally were allowed to enter into a regional contribution agreements (RCAs) that allowed them to pay a fee to another municipality that agreed to provide affordable housing units to fulfill up to half of the sending municipality’s COAH obligations. The sending municipality had to pay a negotiated fee for each unit transferred.

Schmierer told Planet Princeton he was on the conference panel on affordable housing this week in his role as assistant counsel for the League of Municipalities, and not as an attorney for Princeton.

‘There was a question asked about RCAs if new affordable housing legislation was pursued during the Murphy Administration. My first comment was that it would be a hard sell if RCAs were brought up in any proposed legislation,” Schmierer said. “I did comment that the former Princeton Township 20 years ago or so had entered into an RCA at the request of the City of Trenton and funded 19 units of housing at $25,000 per unit of its then 275 second-round obligation.”

Schmierer said the payment was used as matching funds for the Trenton Community Development Office to obtain federal and state funding to construct the 19 units near the Battlement Monument on Pennington Road.

“Those houses are still there and have provided much needed affordable housing for 19 Trenton residents,” Schmierer said. “So what was said had nothing to do with Princeton wanting to enter into now an agreement to ‘take Princeton’s obligation’.”

The Fair Share Housing Center stands by statements made at the seminar, and says many housing advocates were in the room when Schmierer said these comments. “Rather than deflect, Mr. Schmierer and Princeton officials should answer the question about whether they think these segregation payments are good public policy,” said Anthony Campisi, who is a communications consultant for the Fair Share Housing Center.

According to Fair Share Housing, Princeton Township paid Trenton $460,0000 in 1996 through a regional contribution agreement to build 23 affordable units in Trenton instead of Princeton. Fair Share Housing and other affordable housing advocates argue that such agreements concentrate poverty and promote segregation.

The municipality of Princeton and the Fair Share Housing Center are still parties in a lawsuit regarding the number of affordable housing units the town must build for the time period from 1999 to 2025. A superior Court judge will determine what Princeton’s affordable housing requirement will be, and the municipality will receive credits for affordable housing units that were already built between 1999 and now. Ewing, Hamilton, Hopewell and Lawrence were originally part of the lawsuit but all settled with the Fair Share Housing Center.

“Princeton walked away from an agreement with us that we had negotiated in good faith — for the sole purpose of trying to get a lower housing obligation through litigation,” Campisi said. “There’s no way to spin that. Princeton and its lawyer are trying to exclude working families and people of color from their town. They’ve sided with a small group of extremists who oppose integration and inclusion and walked away from generations of inclusionary policies to do it.”

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.

  • Robert Dana

    Compared with the national media, the landing pages of which remind me of the National Enquirer at the supermarket checkout, PP is a breath of fresh air. Just the facts m’am.

  • Nat Bottigheimer

    Correct

  • D14

    Krystal, this reader finds your reporting very thorough and objective, and the best source for local information we have. I don’t know how you do it with so much less than what the other papers have at their disposal. Thank you for the extraordinary service you provide to us.

  • D14

    This comment is sarcastic, right?

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    “why there is no story about 911 being outsourced?”

    Probably the reason is that PP has very limited resources and not every story gets coverage. Krystal has addressed this above, but there’s no reason to make accusations when there are more reasonable explanations. I’m sure PP would welcome additional people to help with the reporting.

    The story in the Packet seems to cover the issue well. The proposal seems to be a good way forward given the cost savings and the trouble the Princeton government has had handling personnel matters in the past.

  • Daveys

    Beside 911 being outsourced aren’t you more concerned with the waste in the Administration Department at the township?

  • Street

    My apologies.

  • Street

    OK so tell me why there is no story about 911 being outsourced?
    As a resident I am very concerned about who is answering if I have an emergency.

  • krystalknapp

    I was not at the meeting because I am in Michigan due to a relative’s serious illness. I have not had a chance to review the meeting recordings yet. I wish I had the resources to send another reporter to the meeting that night, but no one was available. The anonymous person commenting is likely a police officer or dispatcher. I hope the police always know they can contact me if they have issues with my reporting. I was not alerted to the meeting issue until the morning of the meeting when the union posted on Planet Princeton’s Facebook at the last minute the day of the vote. I think Planet Princeton has been very fair to the police in coverage in the past, for example the Imani Perry incident. If you wish to dialogue more please contact me via email rather than hiding behind an anonymous comment and hijacking comments on a post about a different topic. I am always willing to discuss the reporting. Thank you.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Perhaps you are joking? PP has broken many stories that the mainstream press wouldn’t have published first. It wasn’t until PP existed that I realized how much influence the people in power had over the reporting in Town Topics and the Packet.

  • Nat Bottigheimer

    You are absolutely right. We must expect MUCH more from local journalists and the resources at their disposal. Planet Princeton has a higher reporting bar to hurdle than other local media, and SHOULD be held accountable. I join you and will NOT be voting for Krystal in the next election.

  • Street

    Meanwhile Princeton privatizes their 911 and not a peep from the Planet.
    Do you collude with Council to keep certain stories out of the news?

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Sun 17

Christmas Bird Count, Kingston segment

December 17 @ 7:30 am - 5:00 pm
Sun 17
Sun 17

Santa Comes to Kale’s Garden Center

December 17 @ 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sun 17

Carillon Concert at Princeton University

December 17 @ 1:00 pm - 1:45 pm
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