PATERSON, NJ- The leaders of several local organizations including Paterson Habitat for Humanity, Saint Paul’s Community Development Corporation, the Paterson Housing Authority, and the City of Paterson’s Neighborhood Assistance Office lent their signatures to a letter urging Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature to preserve a fund dedicated to creation of affordable housing across the state.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) is funded through a portion of the Realty Transfer Fee, and is, according to the letter “legally dedicated to the creation of affordable homes for lower income residents.”

Signatories to the letter, dated May 15 and sent by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, a statewide association of more than 250 individuals and organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities, expressed their “deep concern” about a proposal by Murphy’s Administration to divert $46 million from the fund.

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Bob Guarasci, Founder and CEO of the New Jersey Development Corporation (NJCDC), the well recognized non-profit organization leading efforts to revitalize the city’s Great Falls Area, also signed the letter and told TAPinto Paterson that he is “hopeful that the Governor and Legislature will work collaboratively to maximize resources for affordable housing, from the Trust Fund and other potential sources.”

NJCDC, according to their website, “prides itself on providing affordable and supportive hosing in city of Paterson and the surrounding area to those vulnerable individuals and families who need it most.”

The AHTF, the letter states, was previously “raided for purposes other than the creation of affordable homes” by the Christie Administration, leaving New Jersey with a “tremendous need for homes people can afford." New Jersey currently leads the nation in home foreclosures, is the top state for millennials still living at home, and is the seventh most expensive place in the country to rent a home.

These statistics, according to Zellie Thomas, a recent candidate for city council who made affordable housing a key part of his platform, are even more severe in Paterson.

“Paterson homeowners have the second highest housing cost burden in New Jersey. More than 40% of Paterson tenants spend more than half of their income on housing expenses,” Thomas said when asked about Murphy’s proposal. “Shifting resources away from addressing our housing crisis only hurts struggling communities even more. “

“The practice of diverting funds over the last decade has been an albatross on our housing market,” the Network’s President and CEO Staci Berger, said in a statement. “Our economy cannot thrive when people cannot afford to live here.”

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly who serves on the Assembly Budget Committee, and on Monday was tapped to serve as Chair of the body’s Housing and Community Development Committee, said that the lack of affordable housing is “as critical as ever” and that the shortage is something that hits cities like Paterson, “already struggling economically,” especially hard.

Referring to comments Murphy made as a candidate regarding the role New Jersey cities will play in the state’s economic success going forward Wimberly added that he is confident that the views he espoused will ultimately “translate into good public policy.”

In testimony delivered earlier to this month before the Assembly Budget Committee and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, who also serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) said that while increasing funding for affordable housing to “pre-Christie era levels” was a “priority of the incoming administration,” the extend of the “fiscal disaster” Murphy’s team faced was not initially known.

“The commitment that Governor Murphy has made to support the development and preservation of affordable housing is absolute,” Oliver said. “This is an issue that I have championed over the course of my career and one that the administration will not allow to fall by the wayside.”

Click here to read Oliver’s full testimony.