“Affordable Housing”?

Count The Curmudgeon in!

In the 1980s a fair housing court case produced what has became known as “the Mt. Laurel doctrine,” which in turn led to a state law that established fair housing laws in New Jersey. At the risk of oversimplifying, the court decision and the state law together require all municipalities to create opportunities for what is considered “affordable housing.”

As you might expect, most towns don’t like that idea, and it’s not overstatement at all to suggest that most have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into meeting their legal obligation under the law. Many try to get around the requirement, and some even go so far as to pay other towns to take over their fair housing requirements, which are often presented as a “quota” by public officials seeking to incite opposition to the requirement. Those that can’t afford to pay another town to do their dirty work erect as many barriers to establishing such housing as possible. Where The Curmudgeon lives, for example, the most recent area designated for the development of affordable housing is in the far corner of the township, an isolated area with open fields and industry, with the town dump nearby, and nary a residential neighbor in sight.

We’re good neighbors in Marlton, aren’t we?

The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what to make of affordable housing requirements. They seem like a good idea to him in theory but he hasn’t given much thought to whether they’re really a good idea or very practical.

But the need to develop fair housing keeps a lot of small-town officials up at night, sort of like the first people of color attempting to move into their towns did a generation ago.

Not too long ago, a consortium of 280 towns hired a consulting firm called Econsult to figure out how many affordable housing units they collectively needed to facilitate to meet their legal obligation. The firm came up with the number of 35,000 such units through the year 2025. When the judge overseeing enforcement of legal judgments requiring that municipalities implement the law stopped laughing he ordered them double that number, to 70,000, which even then left it well short of what affordable housing advocates from the organization Fair Share thinks those areas need. The Fair Share figure: 202,000.

Which, unless The Curmudgeon’s limited mathematical skills have failed him, is a lot more.

The discrepancy is based on what Econsult considers “affordable housing.”

And Econsult’s idea of what constitutes “affordable housing” is what makes this worth writing about. Here are a few of the homes the folks at Econsult listed as “affordable housing”:

  • A four-bedroom, $700,000 beach house on Long Beach Island
  • A five-bedroom house in Toms River with a pool and a hot tub that last sold for $500,000
  • A four-bedroom house in The Curmudgeon’s town of Marlton, complete with a three-car garage and pool, that last sold for $441,000

In all, Econsult put nearly 20,000 homes worth $300,000 or more on its list of affordable homes.

So how did it do that? Well, the company didn’t respond to a reporter’s request for an explanation – the folks at Econsult may be stupid but they’re not stupid – but a lawyer for Fair Share has a theory: Econsult calculated how much low- and middle-income people can afford if they have a 2.5 percent mortgage and pay only the mortgage interest and never a penny on the principal, plus property taxes.

Which the last The Curmudgeon heard, doesn’t buy you anything.

And will seriously tick off the mortgage company, too.

Ironically, one of the homes that showed up on the Econsult list of affordable houses is owned by one of the lawyers on the first generation of Mt. Laurel lawsuits. It’s a condo in Brigantine, New Jersey, The Curmudgeon’s beach town of choice, and its value is listed at $400,000.

Based on the partial photo of the condo that accompanied the article, The Curmudgeon thinks he knows the building in which it’s located, and he’s thinking this:

If this is affordable housing, count The Curmudgeon in!

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