By Mayor Jonathan Hornik, Marlboro Township
Forgotten among the latest round of finger-pointing and investigations regarding the use of Superstorm Sandy funds are displaced low and moderate-income homeowners and renters who need help. This immediate and pressing need, combined with resources available from communities like Marlboro Township, in the form of affordable housing trust funds, present a unique opportunity for regional cooperation. Now all we need is some action in Trenton.
The funds, collected from developer fees, now totaling at least $180 million state-wide (and which the State has been trying to take for its own budget problems), are to be used to meet the need for affordable housing under the Supreme Court’s Mt. Laurel rulings. Those cases decreed that every town has an obligation to provide for its region’s need for affordable housing. We have long argued that the doctrine should be meaningfully applied – let’s build the housing where the need is the greatest.
Yet to this day the planners in Trenton wrangle over rules to determine how towns must address their affordable housing, going on 15 years now, when it should be painfully obvious that the need for our community (and our region) is staring us in the face. Current state laws prohibit Marlboro from helping those communities who are in desperate need for housing assistance after Sandy. There is no mechanism for Marlboro to spend its trust funds for the benefit of, for example, Union Beach or the Highlands, because there are no rules that allow us to do so. We can’t fulfill a fundamental tenet of Mt. Laurel, and help our neighbors because the authority to do so isn’t there. And why not?
Towns used to be able to share resources in this fashion under the now-vilified regional contribution agreements (RCAs). Under RCAs, towns which had money from development fees could use it to build or rehabilitate housing in other towns where the need was most acute and resources low. But the Legislature outlawed that type of cooperation (to the distress, I might add, of most “receiving” towns). In any event, the RCA framework can be re-utilized now to allow Marlboro and other towns throughout the State to aid people in Monmouth, Ocean or Atlantic counties. The local mechanism is in place, as well. Most municipalities have or retain administrative agents who oversee the use and disbursement of available funds to qualified households for established affordable housing purposes such as rehabilitation or “affordability assistance,” including the use of such funds for emergency purposes. The last thing we need is new rules to address an urgent need especially when the administrative structure already exists.
Over a year ago, I pleaded with legislative leaders to allow Marlboro, and similarly situated towns, to use their trust funds to help our sister municipalities most impacted by Sandy. Nothing happened. Unfortunately, nothing has happened for a lot of people in need as well. Trenton, let us do our part and help our neighbors who are in desperate need of assistance.