Assemblyman Bramnick Urges State Legislature to Solve Affordable Housing Issues

Hartz Mountain Industries is attempting to rezone and develop 905 apartment units at 750 Walnut Avenue in Cranford, which is currently a commercial zone. Credits: Elizabeth Clee

TRENTON, NJ – Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) is calling for a special state legislature session to solve the issues in communities that are caused by affordable housing laws.

In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that municipalities must include affordable housing. If the municipality is not meeting the affordable housing quota, it can be sued by builders for the right to build more units on a specific plot in exchange for including affordable housing, Bramnick said.

Westfield is one town that has learned that lesson. In 2009, Sunnyside Senior Housing Corporation sued the town, arguing that the town’s plans denied the corporation its right to develop property which included affordable housing. 

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“We have the wild, wild west right now,” said Bramnick, who lives in Westfield. “Builders are suing municipalities and municipalities are confused. If you call any municipality and ask if it's clear what their affordable housing law is, it's not clear. For years, the legislature hasn't addressed it and the courts aren't setting a precedent. That happens anytime the law is unclear.”

Last month, Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso presented the town council with a resolution demanding that state legislators address the current affordable housing rules before local municipalities are overloaded.

“You can overcrowd the town, you can burden the infrastructure of the town, you can most definitely burden the school system,” Bonaccorso said. “You try to fix a low-income housing option so you destroy the school systems with overcrowding instead.”

In Cranford, residents are vehemently opposing a proposal by Hartz Mountain Industries to build 905 apartment units, with a percentage designated for affordable housing, on 750 Walnut Avenue, which is currently a commercial zone.

New buildings are popping up throughout Westfield as well, including a 70-unit apartment building on Central Avenue that opened this week, but Bramnick said he hasn’t been looking at those as closely.

“I’m clearly paying attention to Cranford,” Bramnick said. “My opinion is that the state legislature should make clear and concise rules as to when the court can rezone a commercial zone. Most residents don't want high density housing in a space that is zoned commercial.”

Bramnick said that bringing back regional contribution agreements is the first step the state legislature should take. Under those agreements, a municipality could transfer part of their affordable housing obligation to a willing town, normally an urban area, along with payment.

“I would put back in regional contribution agreements,” Bramnick said. “Many urban centers need gentrification and are willing to take on projects where there’s transportation and already dense housing.”

In addition, the legislators need to create clear and cut guidelines for municipal responsibilities, Bramnick said. Surveyors will include parks and other spaces of land in their reports when looking for buildable land, he said.

“The legislature should set forth exact and clear cut guidelines as to what responsibilities are for affordable housing,” Bramnick said. ‘Right now, there's real confusion as to what land is available.”

Bramnick said that this is not a partisan issue, and it's one that needs to be addressed urgently.

“There’s no Democrat that represents a municipality that thinks the system is working right now,” he said. “There's been tension between Governor Chris Christie and the legislature, but there's tension on everything. We need to get into a room and debate it. Unless someone calls for a special session or a crisis hits, I'm not sure that the Senate president or the speaker will call for hearings this summer.”

Bramnick said he thinks the legislature needs to stay in one room until the issue is resolved.

“I would have nonstop hearings,” he said. “I would be there until we fix it. I don't want the courts imposing high-density housing in towns where the legislature has abdicated the responsibility to the courts.”

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