The recently announced PILOT plan reached between Princeton University and the municipality which includes a generous $10 million subsidy for low and middle-income Princeton residents, under the criteria of the ANCHOR program, is well-intentioned but faulty. It further compounds the regressive nature of our tax system, which greatly favors homeowners at the expense of the poor.
Under the ANCHOR program, a family who rents will only get 30% of the subsidy of a home-owning family ($450 vs. $1,500). The plan also calls for an unnamed nonprofit to administer these funds. It remains to be seen what kind of checks and balances will be implemented to monitor that the program adheres to its stated objectives. I would hope that it is managed in a more systematic and effective way than “knocking on doors” to ask people if they have applied, as one of our council members has suggested.
Part of the reason why many low-income families don’t apply is lack of access to a computer, or not knowing how to get and complete the application forms because they don’t have to file a tax return. Also, the most vulnerable families, those in public housing, probably don’t qualify for ANCHOR relief because their homes are not subject to property tax. Will they still receive the Princeton subsidy? A robust outreach and application assistance program should be implemented to make sure these funds reach the people who need them the most. Otherwise, the greatest beneficiaries will likely be upper-middle-class residents, those with incomes as high as $200,000.
This is the kind of feedback the Princeton Council would benefit from if it had been willing to listen to members of the community who, like me, were serving on the now-defunct boards and commissions. It’s not about bruised egos, as Councilman Newlin has suggested, it’s about social justice and democracy, and in the words of Princeton University Prof. Matthew Desmond “refusing to live as enemies of the poor.”
The writer was a member of the recently eliminated Princeton Affordable Housing Board. She has worked for many years with lower-income residents and founded the Latin American Legal Defense Fund in 2004.