Affordable housing board: Pull ordinance consolidating board and commissions and have a more democratic and transparent process

We, members of the Princeton Affordable Housing Board, urge the governing body of Princeton to pull the proposed Ordinance 2024-01 that would eliminate the Affordable Housing Board, The Human Services Commission, and the Civil Rights Commission, and replace it with a single commission with limited powers of independent initiative.

The next step should be to engage in a dialogue with members of these advisory groups and the public to get their feedback and input. Only after conducting such a process will your decisions regarding the functioning of these three bodies be legitimate.

This is a process that should have happened before this ordinance was crafted, but did not. Rather, the members of the three groups were first notified at 7 p.m. on Friday before the Monday night public introduction at the council meeting at which public comment was not allowed.

The members of the board and commissions deserve more respect than this, and a truly democratic process requires that their input and that of the community be considered.

These advisory groups have been effective in identifying and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable members of our town. For decades, they have been vehicles for civic engagement and participation, and spaces for listening to the free expression of the voices of residents and stakeholders.

Consolidating these groups in favor of a single board is a major step that must be considered very carefully and openly. The elimination of the current board members’ names will decrease residents’ awareness of where to go when confronted with the myriad of issues within the scope of the proposed new “super-committee.”

We are concerned that the negative factors of implementing the Princeton Council’s proposal heavily outweigh any possible benefits of efficiency and expediency.

A single, nine-member committee would be severely capacity-constrained in addressing the sometimes overlapping but, clearly distinct, specialized areas of affordable housing, human services, and civil rights.

The Princeton Affordable Housing Board has recognized the need to collaborate with the Human Services and Civil Rights commissions and we have taken the initiative to do so on a number of occasions. We created a joint committee of all three groups during the pandemic to address strategies to dismantle obstacles to accessing affordable housing and provide financial counseling for both applicants and current affordable housing residents. We also participated in the Human Services Commission fact-finding for its comprehensive Community Needs Assessment in 2022. Last year, members of the Princeton Affordable Housing Board and the Human Services Commission worked with staff from both departments in an educational workshop for low-income tenants.

We ask the governing body to pull this ordinance and engage with these three long-standing advisory groups and the public in order to achieve a fully vetted, democratic, new ordinance that will lead to the stated objectives of better functioning municipal services, and a more just, equitable, and diverse community.

Respectfully,

Dosier Hammond, Lance Liverman, Maria Juega, Mary Agnes Proccacino, Colin Vonvorys and Carol Golden