New Jersey Lawmaker Seeks Overhaul Of Housing Laws

A New Jersey legislator is seeking to stop what she says is the “wild west” of zoning with a package of bills that she says is designed to give guidance to local governments in the wake of court ordered affordable housing decisions.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood) has introduced a package of 10 bills to address the state’s affordable housing laws, which have been largely dictated by state Supreme Court rulings. The bills would address what Schepisi says is the court being able to allow developers and affordable housing advocates to push for more development than local governments want to address affordable housing obligations. The debate comes to a head next week when Assembly Republicans again seek to push for Schepisi’s legislation to come to a floor vote over the objections of leaders of the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

“By us not enacting guidelines, it has become the wild west,” Schepisi told The Celock Report about her push for the legislation. “Every community has absolutely no idea how to deal with this.”

A top priority for Schepisi is legislation that would place a moratorium on builder remedy lawsuits against local governments on zoning denials for the remainder of the year. She said this would give “breathing room” for local governments to figure out affordable housing laws and address obligations with developers and affordable housing advocacy groups. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) has said that he will push for the Assembly to vote Monday to pull the bill out of the Housing and Community Development Committee and for an immediate floor vote. A similar motion made by Schepisi in the early morning hours of July 4 was defeated in a largely party line vote.

The affordable housing issue has been a dominant one for the Garden State since the 1970s when the state Supreme Court issued it’s first ruling on the subject and the subsequent creation of the state Council on Affordable Housing. Subsequent rulings have placed affordable housing obligations on municipalities and have set a series of ways to local governments to address the plans, including previous plans that allowed for local governments to pay into a statewide fund to shift their obligation to another community. Current rules have shifted the obligation back to the local governments.

Schepisi has said she has been hearing from communities statewide about the new rules giving developers the upper hand and forcing local governments to accept high-density developments. She said this and the option for developers to push for builder remedy lawsuits following zoning denials led her to champion the issue in Trenton.

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