TRENTON – The Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee advanced transformative legislation sponsored by Senator Troy Singleton and Senate President Nicholas Scutari that aims to codify a new framework for determining and enforcing local affordable housing obligations under the Mount Laurel Doctrine.
The Mount Laurel Doctrine, established by the New Jersey Supreme Court through a series of decisions beginning in 1975, outlaws exclusionary zoning and requires municipalities to provide a “fair share” of affordable housing. In 2015, the state’s Supreme Court held that, after years of non-enforcement by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), the judicial system would assume responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Doctrine.
Court enforcement of the Doctrine has caused New Jersey’s annual affordable housing production to nearly double. Since 2015, Mount Laurel settlement agreements have created nearly 70,000 new multi-family homes across the state, 21,000 of which are deed-restricted affordable homes. Legislative efforts have supported the construction of affordable housing projects pursuant to court-determined Mount Laurel settlement agreements, with over half a billion dollars to fund 100 percent affordable housing projects in just the last two fiscal years.
“Although the reinvigorated enforcement of the Mount Laurel Doctrine has created tens of thousands of new homes since 2015, fifteen years of non-enforcement by COAH has left New Jersey short by over 200,000 affordable units,” said Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), who is also the Chair of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. “By codifying the court’s methodology, abolishing COAH, and putting a statutory system in place for the continued enforcement of affordable housing obligations we can begin to reverse that shortage. This legislation is not a silver bullet for the housing affordability crisis, but it is a transformative step towards a more affordable future.”
“Affordability has been the cornerstone of the efforts we have taken in the Legislature to address the challenges our residents face every day in New Jersey,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari. “With this legislation, we aim to develop more affordable housing in our state and strengthen the system that enables that development. This bill marks an important stride towards making housing in New Jersey more accessible and affordable for all of our residents.”
The legislation, S-50, would codify the methodology adopted by the courts to calculate the municipal affordable housing obligation, streamline the process for adoption of fair share plans and related actions, as well as abolish the now-defunct COAH. The streamlined process would provide clear guidance, timeframes, and mediation opportunities for municipalities to calculate their obligations.
The mediation opportunities provided for under the bill would be multi-layered, with a dispute resolution program if there is a challenge to a municipality’s calculation of their obligation or fair share plan. If the dispute is unable to be resolved within the specified timeframe, a county-level housing judge would hear the case.
Altogether, the actions of S-50 would codify the most successful elements of the last several years of court-led enforcement, while reducing the legal costs often borne by developers, affordable housing advocacy groups, and municipal governments.
“We applaud Senate President Scutari and Senator Singleton for prioritizing this crucial piece of legislation and working to end our affordable housing crisis. The bill advanced today offers a promising framework for moving forward,” said Adam Gordon, the Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “The Mount Laurel Framework must be safeguarded and strengthened to meet the current housing challenges facing our state’s families.”
The bill is being advanced in anticipation of the next round of municipal affordable housing obligations, which begins on July 1, 2025. It was advanced in a 3-2 vote.