Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson today issued a ruling on the number of affordable housing units Princeton and West Windsor must build.
Under the order, Princeton is required to build 753 new affordable units. West Windsor is required to build 1,500 new affordable units. The units must be built by 2025.
Both towns will receive credits for affordable homes built from 1999 to the present. But Princeton also has a 200-unit obligation from prior housing rounds that it has not met.
Some Princeton officials were expecting a much lower number. They had expected that the town would have an obligation of under 500 units and would receive credit for about 350 units. Princeton joined several other municipalities in Mercer County in filing a lawsuit challenging their affordable housing obligations. The expert for Princeton had argued in court that the town’s obligation should be about 300 units.
Princeton were unaware of the ruling when contacted by this reporter. Mayor Liz Lempert and Council President Jenny Crumiller issued the following written statement after being given a copy of the decision by Planet Princeton. The statement does not indicate that the town will appeal the judge’s decision.
“We are glad that a decision has been reached so that we can focus our time and dollars into creating opportunities for more affordable housing. Princeton has long been committed to building affordable housing and this commitment shows in the fact that we have already made significant progress in meeting the obligation set by the court through projects such as Avalon Bay, Merwick Stanworth and others,” reads the statement. “The obligation number set by Judge Jacobsen is well within the range of what we were expecting, and we feel confident we will be able to present a plan to the court that meets that obligation, adds needed diversity, and energizes our local economy through smart growth planning”
Both Princeton and West Windsor must submit compliance plans to the court in June. A compliance hearing is scheduled for July 24.
Affordable housing advocates characterized the ruling as a major victory for New Jersey families and said the decision recognizes the extent of the state’s housing affordability crisis and affirms that towns must meet fair housing needs totaling more than 150,000 units.
In the 217 page ruling, Jacobson rejected many of the arguments a group of towns was using to artificially reduce their housing obligations. The court’s ruling follows a series of unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decisions beginning in 2015 that ended a 16-year bureaucratic logjam in Trenton that was preventing proper enforcement of these laws. The justices turned over enforcement of our fair housing laws, known as the Mount Laurel doctrine, over to the trial courts.
“Judge Jacobson’s decision recognizes the very substantial need for homes for working families and people with disabilities in New Jersey,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “This ruling sends a strong message to any town still seeking to exclude working families that they won’t succeed. While we are still examining the impact of this decision and disagree with some of the ruling, this decision is the latest development in a process that is laying the groundwork for tens of thousands of new homes to address New Jersey’s housing affordability crisis.”
Jacobson’s ruling applies to Princeton and West Windsor, which do not have fair housing settlements in place. The decision may impact more than 100 municipalities that have not settled. More than 190 municipalities have already reached settlements that affordable housing advocates say will expand opportunities for families to live in safe neighborhoods, close to good schools and jobs.
Towns that have already reached settlements – including Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell, Mount Laurel, Woodbridge, Edison, Metuchen, and Bridgewater – have pledged to pursue the redevelopment of vacant strip malls, office parks and industrial sites into new communities and revitalize the state’s many historic downtowns by increasing access to transit, Fair Share Housing representatives said. They have also pledged to work with local non-profits seeking to build new homes that will allow people with disabilities to receive the support they need to live near their friends and family.
“This ruling is a victory for lower-income and minority families across New Jersey,” Walsh said. “Judge Jacobson’s decision will give opportunities for thousands of lower-income and minority families to move into safe neighborhoods, send their children to good schools, and work at jobs where they live instead of traveling hours commuting each day. The exclusionary policies that will fall as a result of this ruling harm our whole state, especially African-American and Latino communities.”
Jacobson rejected many of the claims made in a report by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions Inc., which was hired by a group of towns come up with figures for the towns’ obligations. Towns relying on the Econsult study argued that the state’s fair housing need should be less than 80,000 homes. Fair Share Housing claims they relied on “demonstrably false assumptions and legal trickery in trying to make tens of thousands of working families, seniors and those with disabilities disappear – while pushing for policies that would cement racial segregation.”
“Today’s decision demonstrates that towns which continue to resist the New Jersey Constitution’s fair housing requirements will not be rewarded for further obstruction and delay, Walsh said. “We expect there will be more settlements but are prepared to go to trial again to ensure that every town in New Jersey is following the Constitution and putting plans in place that finally provide the homes that New Jersey families have been waiting for.”
Fair Share has not yet made a decision regarding whether it will appeal aspects of Judge Jacobson’s decision that it contends are not correct.