Will this proposal boost affordable housing in N.J.?

Published February 4, 2016
By Brent Johnson

TRENTON — A pair of veteran state lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation they hope will increase affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents in New Jersey — something they say the state sorely needs.

The bill (S-894) would give up to $600 million in tax credits to developers to build affordable housing in the Garden State, one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. — with the focus being on "distressed communities."

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) — who co-sponsored the measure with state Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) — said every county in New Jersey has at least three or four neighborhoods that could use a new set of affordable homes.

Lesniak, a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year, added that this would help transform cities from "areas with just offices" to communities with "robust residential populations that are alive with activities" seven days a week.

"This will provide economic opportunity in these neighborhoods, and it will reduce crime," Lesniak, a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year, said at a news conference at the Statehouse. "New Jersey needs affordable housing."

New Jersey is the fifth-most expensive place in the nation to rent a two-bedroom house, according to a 2015 report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Lesniak said the bill was inspired by members of the business community who told him "one of the biggest obstacles" to expanding businesses or locating in New Jersey was affordable housing for their employees.

To receive the credits under the bill, a developer must build a residential project in which at least 20 percent of the units are reserved to low-to-moderate-incoming housing. And 13 percent of that must be for very low-income residents and 20 percent for workforce housing. Very low-income residents are defined as families earning less than about $25,000 a year.

Lesniak said about 155 communities in which the median family income does not exceed 80 percent of the statewide or metropolitan median family income would qualify for the credits.

Staci Berger, president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, applauded the measure.

"We want to be sure that the people who are the backbone of our economy ... have the option to live in these new developments and to work where they live," she said.

Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.