State Senator Raymond Lesniak's statement opening a State Senate hearing to be held later this month on reforming the policies of the Council On Affordable Housing (COAH).
I come here today not to praise COAH, but to bury it. In my 31 years of working with government's bureaucracy, I have never experienced an agency that has so totally failed its mission as COAH has. If the legislature fails to act, and act quickly, COAH's policies will continue to not produce necessary affordable housing and will stifle job production and the state's recovery from the worldwide recession. Governor Corzine and the Legislature have embarked on a bold plan to restore economic viability to our state and for our residents. Our efforts will fail, if we do not quickly stop COAH from dragging our state into an economic abyss from which we will not be able to recover.
Cutting our nose off to spite our face, which has been embraced by COAH, and to a certain extent our Courts, is not an option. Stopping economic development if affordable housing is not provided for is a zero sum game where the residents and taxpayers of New Jersey are the losers. Affordable housing is the responsibility of the State. We need to treat affordable housing as an infrastructure need to be provided for by the state. There are many ways we can fulfill our affordable housing needs. One of them is not trying to pound a square peg into a round hole as COAH, and again to an extent the Courts, have tried and not surprisingly failed to accomplish.
Affordable housing needs to be included in the federal infrastructure stimulus package. Congressman Rothman and our Congressional delegation are working on that need.
RAD financing, using a portion of future state income taxes, sales taxes, parking taxes, admission fees and local property taxes generated by a development can help finance the infrastructure needs of a development so that affordable housing can be built without killing the project. COAH needs to learn basic math: 2.5% or 10% or 20% of zero is zero. The Treasurer of New Jersey likewise has to understand that 80% or 60% or 40% of new state revenues is better than no state revenues.
New Jersey has an inventory of surplus property, as well as underutilized property, which should be dedicated, where appropriate, for affordable housing.
Our Courts need to understand that the welfare clause of the New Jersey Constitution does not exist in a vacuum. A policy that damages our state's economy hurts our most at risk residents: the poor, the uninsured, the elderly, the infirm, the uneducated, the undereducated, the jobless, the single parent struggling to raise a family, the two parent family struggling to keep a roof over their heads and provide for their children, and the children who have been abandoned or abused by their parents. Foremost, it hurts the state's ability to protect the safety of our residents. Governor Corzine has to make this clear to the Court, in litigation that will no doubt challenge our effort to reform COAH. We have to be able to produce affordable housing, protect our environment and promote economic growth. Yes we can do all three. In fact, leaving any one out hurts the others. This holistic approach is not everything, it's the only thing.
A policy that ignores smart growth and environmental protection principals, such as COAH has adopted, damages the quality of life of all our residents, the quality of the air we breath, the water we drink, the soil we walk, live and play on, and the beaches that are not only a source of recreation for our residents, but are also a key part of our economy.
COAH's policies also impair the ability to create or maintain open space so necessary in the most densely populated state in the nation.
There has been much sound and fury over COAH's deadline for municipalities to submit its compliance plans. To me, the deadline was meaningless since any plans submitted under current COAH policies are not worth the paper they're printed on or the type they're e-mailed on. COAH's methodology of determining the number of affordable units needed in the state and each municipality is not only flawed, it's outdated as a result of the economic downturn that has engulfed our state, our nation and the rest of the world. The cost of developing the plans submitted under these circumstances was a colossal waste of tax dollars.
For the sake of the future viability of our state as a prosperous and healthy entity that provides for the general welfare of all of our residents, we must reform COAH. Make no mistake about this effort. We will not tolerate any exclusionary zoning or any efforts to keep low income residents from living in a municipality. But attempts at social engineering that are contrary to the laws of economics, the laws of environmental protection and the laws of common sense are doomed to failure. And failure has been the signature of COAH throughout its existence. Low income residents of our state have been, and will continue to be, the most damaged by that failure.
Today we will be considering legislation sponsored by Democratic and Republican Senators which will bring much needed common sense and effectiveness into our government's obligation to provide for affordable housing and the general welfare of our residents. We must succeed. Failure is not an option.
Those who support the status quo remind me of a line referring to President Lyndon Johnson in a Vietnam War protest song, "We're knee deep in the big muddy and the big fool says to push on." Let's get out of the big muddy and then push.
To participate in the debate at Sen. Lesniak's Blog CLICK HERE.