Affordable housing: Council aims to bring Montclair in line with state law
by TINA PAPPAS
for Montclair Local
The council passed two ordinances regulating affordable housing with the goal of keeping the quota of 20 percent within any new Montclair development, creating flexibility of where affordable housing would be constructed and invoking a local preference for those who live or work in Montclair.
The ordinances, passed on May 22, amend two codes reflective of the now defunct Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). Both ordinances aim to bring the town in line with current state regulations.
“There were long-standing inconsistencies between the requirements in the zoning ordinance and affordable housing chapter,” said municipal planner Janice Talley. “In an effort to ensure that our affordable housing ordinances remain enforceable, these changes were made.”
For decades, COAH oversaw towns’ efforts to comply with the New Jersey’s Fair Housing Act, which requires all municipalities to provide its fair share of homes for moderate- and lower-income residents. Since COAH was unable to pass new affordable housing rules for over 16 years, the courts have been making decisions when it came to fair share housing.
With state oversight of the planning of all housing developments in New Jersey, the law’s emphasis was on creating housing that moved away from projects where a development was completely low income and instead pushed for all developers to create social diversity within all housing development.
The council referred the ordinances to the planning board after being introduced at its April 17 council meeting. Council members debated at the time whether certain wording in one of the ordinances potentially steered the housing to mostly the Fourth Ward. Mayor Robert Jackson had said the amendments allowed for input from three entities — the planning board, housing commission and council — for a unilateral decision by all three boards. Councilman Rich McMahon said during the council meeting the wording ensured any alternative location for affordable units would be equal in quality to the housing development that generated the units.
Local preference to those who live and work in Montclair is also a plus, said Talley.
“The difference within the marketing plan will give the town some leverage on how to define what the local preference is. That’s the direction that we’re going in, so I think it’s a really good thing,” Talley said at the May 14 Planning Board meeting.
William Scott, chair of the Montclair NAACP Housing Committee and co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission said, overall the commission was in agreement with the changes and were in support of the continued 20 percent. He was concerned over federally-funded housing projects, however.
“Those projects would still have to use a formal marketing process that goes out to the region, which covers about 100 towns under Essex, Warren and Hunterdon Counties,” he said.
Because Montclair is listed an “urban aid” municipality under the Affordable Housing Regulations, it has no affordable housing obligation, Talley noted.
“We technically have a zero obligation, but we know there is a need and we recognize that,” Talley said. “Urban Aid communities were always exempt from COAH and we have a very active housing commission. We know that affordability is an issue and we are committed to addressing it.”
• COAH references were removed from the ordinance.
• Continued commitment of 20 percent affordable housing in development of five or more units.
• Rehabilitation program increased from $10,000 to $15,000. The program is designed to renovate deficient housing units occupied by low and moderate income households in order to meet compliance with the New Jersey State Housing Code.
• Inclusion of more barrier-free affordable housing.
• Although the intention of the law is to guarantee that major development includes affordable units within that development, the town may allow affordable housing units to be built off-site within the same ward or comparable location approved by the housing commission with a three-pronged approval system.
• Builders, if allowed by the town and in the case of smaller developments, may opt to pay cash-in-lieu of building. The ordinance sets the amount of $150,000 for each unit.
• Although the town has not implemented rent control, rent increases will fall under state regulations for affordable units.
Montclair’s current status
Montclair currently has about 600 units of affordable housing, with 47 falling under-for-sale at The Siena, Montclair Mews, and Bay Street Commons. Rentals are administered by Piazza & Associates and are located at 34 Valley Road, 24 Elm St., the Montclair Residences at 11 Pine St., HOMECorp Rentals at 192-194 Bloomfield Ave., and the Montclarion II at 125 Bloomfield Ave. Future developments include Seymour Street, where 10 percent of the 200 units will be affordable. The Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment will designate 20 percent of its 154 units as affordable.
The township’s median income is currently $102,348. Households making under $71,000 can apply for moderate income housing. Households making under $44,000 fall under lower income housing. The state concedes generally that no more than 30 percent of income should be set aside for housing. According to the U.S. Census, more than 39 percent of Montclair residents pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. The median rent is currently at $1,422.