The following commentary appeared in today’s Asbury Park Press and was written by Vincent Solomeno. Vincent is a life long bayshore area resident and a Monmouth County Democratic committeeman from Hazlet.
In 2006, Vincent became a Truman Scholar and in 2007, he was selected as a J. William Fulbright Scholar to the Netherlands where he earned a Master of Arts in European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. A Distinguished Military Graduate (DMG), he is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve and is training to become a Combat Engineer.
Democrats must be able to transform the statewide mandate of the Council on Affordable Housing or else be ready for Republican criticism that may diminish Democratic support among suburban voters.
Ex-Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan recently traveled to Freehold to stump for votes in his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. He likened his campaign to the American Revolution and compared Gov. Jon Corzine and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature to the tyrants of Europe and Asia.
The 21st-century Gen. George Washington continued with a blistering attack on COAH and promised that, when the general election is through, the self-financed Corzine will be living in one of the program’s 40,000 units.
November’s election not only will determine who occupies the front office in the state Capitol. It will test New Jersey Republicans’ ability to make inroads into the Democrats’ legislative majority. Unless Democrats present a compelling narrative for affordable housing, COAH and its cumbersome regulations have the potential to unite the feuding factions of the GOP and erase Democratic gains in suburban battlegrounds.
From a policy perspective, the need for affordable housing remains as clear today as it was when the Supreme Court ordered state action on the issue in 1984. According to the U.S. Census, New Jerseyans pay 30 percent or more of their income for housing, the fourth highest percentage in the nation. However, members of both parties recognize that in its current form, COAH often results in continued overdevelopment and an increase in property taxes.
Democrats in the Legislature have indicated their willingness to take on the challenge. As chairman of the Economic Growth Committee, Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, introduced legislation (S2485) that directs the state Housing Commission to consider the impact of its assessments on local property taxes.
Lesniak also wants COAH to provide housing not only to low-income individuals, but to those in the middle class who do not qualify for the program but nonetheless struggle with New Jersey’s high cost of living. Called “work-force” housing, the change would allow individuals such as secretaries, firefighters and recent college graduates to qualify for assistance.
In his recent State of the State address, Corzine indicated his willingness to “allow for maximum flexibility and ample time for collaborative review” of affordable housing plans. The governor and Democrats will face the challenge of articulating the need for COAH regulations to a public leery of continued development.
Affordable housing may be an issue that Republicans can use to their advantage, but thus far they have offered no policy alternative other than S2292, a bill re-establishing the regional contribution agreements that circumvented the intent of affordable housing in the first place. Their advocacy of a return to the failed status quo does nothing to address the real problem.
New Jersey is a “blue” state and New Jersey Republicans are a party rife with ideological divisions. Criticism of COAH presents them with an issue they can rally around. However, they will need more than rhetoric and stale policy to convince voters they can solve the problem. Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to ease the burden on municipalities without abandoning a commitment to providing affordable housing. The remaining challenge for lawmakers is to deliver reform.