December 8th was the New Jersey Supreme Court deadline for most municipalities in the state to submit plans that tell judges how they’ll meet obligations to promote low- and moderate-income housing and satisfy the four-decades-old state Supreme Court mandate. With the demise of the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing, the high court this year left it up to state superior courts to approve affordable-housing plans submitted by hundreds of municipalities. And where is Highland Park in that process? Did it meet the deadline? Was it obligated to meet that deadline? Does it have a plan to meet the Third Round Affordable Housing obligation?
According to Highland Park Municipal Attorney Ed Schmierer, “no one in Highland Park is asleep at the switch. We are not going to get sued again,” said Mr. Schmierer in reference to the affordable housing “builders remedy” lawsuits that Highland Park just settled with two developers Pulte and American Properties – both of whom took advantage of a missed filing deadline several years ago.
“The municipal staff is very aware of all our deadlines,” Mr. Schmierer said, but the New Jersey Supreme Court did qualify the December 8th deadline mandate by saying that the deadline discretion was left up to the superior court judges working with the municipalities on establishing the new affordable housing obligation.
Judge Phillip Lewis Paley (Superior Court, Civil Division, Middlesex County) who has been working extensively with Highland Park has extended the December 8th deadline until he figures out Highland Park’s target fair share obligation. Developers are prohibited from suing the municipality until Highland Park has a new plan. But a new plan (covering 2015 to 2025) cannot be formulated until the judge decides the obligation.
The municipalities, developers, and the affordable housing advocates officials, developers and housing-rights advocates predictably are battling over how many affordable-housing units each municipality is constitutionally required to provide.
Judge Paley and other superior court judges are awaiting a report commissioned by 270 municipalities in New Jersey that will present the municipal recommendation for fair share obligation. That report is due at the end of December. It is anticipated that Judge Paley then will make a determination of obligation and only then will Highland Park be able to formulate – probably by the spring of 2016 – its plan to provide the affordable housing.