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What Is Summit’s Affordable Housing Obligation? Legal Team Explains

SUMMIT, NJ – As redevelopment projects like Broad Street West have become contentious topics at Council meetings, many have questioned the city’s real need and obligation to create affordable housing.

A legal team, which included Summit’s affordable housing attorney, made a presentation at Monday night’s council meeting, tearing down the city’s affordable housing obligations.

Matthew DiLauri, Summit’s assistant director of operations and planning, explained that Summit entered into a settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing in October 2016.

Find out what’s happening in Summitwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

All New Jersey municipalities are mandated by the state courts to provide low and moderate income housing as a result of a 1975 NJ Supreme Court case that came out of the Mt. Laurel Township came.

Under the current settlement agreement, Summit has a long-term goal of rehabilitating 131 affordable housing units, and building a total of 663 new units.

Find out what’s happening in Summitwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

This 663 figure was reduced from its original 738 commitment because Summit received a number of credits by building affordable housing over the years, as well as financing other affordable projects, such as one in Elizabeth that created 26 units.

DiLauri explained that Summit’s 131-unit rehabilitation obligation means the city must make improvements to existing housing that is “substandard” and that is owned or rented by qualified affordable households.

The city must invest at least $10,000 in rehabilitation for each unit in order for it to count toward its obligation. This includes improving the units’ HVAC system, roof, windows and more.
It will apparently take a long time for Summit to create 663 new affordable units.

As a result, Fair Share Housing imposed a short-term goal for the city to create 50 new affordable units by July 2025.

However, Summit has already built 18 units of affordable housing that will count toward this goal. That includes the recent 12-unit Habitat for Humanity complex at 146 Morris Avenue, as well as another on Ashwood Court and other projects on Summit and Morris Avenues.

As it stands now, Summit must “take all reasonable steps” necessary to build 32 more affordable units by 2025 to meet its 50-unit requirement.

Because the city does not have enough vacant land available to build one 50-unit affordable housing building, DiLauri said the summit will achieve its goal through scattered site development.

Broad Street West, which is proposed to include a percentage of affordable housing units, is an example of a “spread site” development.

In addition to redevelopments like Broad Street West, DiLauri said other projects that will help Summit meet its requirement include partnerships with nonprofit developers, such as Habitat for Humanity.

Other ways to capture affordable housing units would develop in overlay zones, but DiLauri said that would not count toward the Summit’s requirement of 50 new units.

The city could also generate more units with a mandatory set-aside ordinance, in which any new multifamily project with five or more units would require the developer to set aside a certain number of affordable units. DiLauri said the developer would have to put down 15 percent if it’s a rental or 20 percent if it’s owned.

Summit also has a growing affordable housing trust fund. When developers build residential and non-residential projects that do not include affordable housing, they must pay into the city’s trust fund.

The city’s budget in the fund is currently $3,697,924, according to DiLauri’s presentation.

Councilor Greg Vartan explained that half of the 50 new units that Summit must build cannot be age restricted and must be available to the general public. He also asked Holm, the affordable housing attorney, what exactly “reasonable efforts” meant.

Holm explained that the city needs to “use every available mechanism” to build affordable housing and that redevelopment will be the main mechanism for Summit.

Because New Jersey’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) was abolished by Governor Chris Christie in 2011, Holm described the current state of the courts as “the wild west” and that she hopes COAH will soon be reinstated.

Cranford, along with 12 other towns, recently filed a lawsuit against Gov. Murphy filed, forcing him to reconstitute COAH.

Read more: Cranford joins 12 towns in affordable housing lawsuit against Murphy

Resident Kevin McGoey argued that 50 units do not need to be built by 2025, but that the city should make “reasonable efforts,” which he said the city is doing.

However, Holm said the city must demonstrate to Fair Share Housing that all mechanisms are in place to create 50 units by 2025.

“Whether they’re built by 2025 or not is another story,” Holm said.

Holm also added that Summit currently has immunity from Mt. Laurel lawsuits, meaning no builder can file a “builder’s remedy” against the city. A builder’s remedy is a mechanism that redevelopers use to speed up the construction of low- or moderate-income housing when a municipality fails to comply with laws related to housing development.

This essentially allows a developer to bypass or ignore the municipality’s zoning laws and begin construction in an expeditious manner.

Holm said if Summit doesn’t meet its obligations, the city could be stripped of its immunity.

Mayor Nora Radest said Fair Share Housing has “forced” the issue of affordable housing and is putting pressure on towns like Chatham that haven’t built affordable housing for decades.

She said Summit has done a much better job implementing affordable housing since its goal is 50, as opposed to other towns that need a few hundred.

You can watch the General Council meeting as well as the affordable housing presentation on YouTube below:

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