N.J. Gov. Murphy signs new law to address affordable housing crisis

6 mins read
Gov. Phil Murphy speaks before signing a law that addresses affordable housing in New Jersey (YouTube: NJ Office Of The Governor)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new law Wednesday that would expedite the building of affordable housing and nullify the control municipalities once individually had over housing authority.

The signing came as Murphy estimated that the state is facing a shortage of more than 200,000 affordable housing units.

“We need to keep building, we need to do it equitably, and we need to do it fast,” Murphy said. 

The State Department of Community Affairs and the Administrative Office of the Courts will now handle affordable housing issues in the Garden State. They will calculate each municipality’s regional needs and obligations and ensure that affordable housing deadlines are met.  

“Under the rules of this legislation, we will bring greater efficiency to the process by having the Department of Community Affairs run the numbers,” Murphy said. “Towns will then have the freedom to come up with plans to meet those numbers, and if there is a dispute, it will be handled through a mediation program run by the courts.” 

DCA’s Assistant Commissioner Janel Winter said this bill gives the department a specific responsibility for setting the metrics for affordable housing developments for the towns. 

“The ultimate goal, and I think the outcome, will be that more affordable housing is developed. That will mean more places for people to live for the many participants we serve,” Winter said.

“Whether they have a voucher or whether they don’t have a voucher, there will just be more units and certainly the more affordable housing stock that we have, the more rents become affordable to everyone,” Winter added. 

Many families in New Jersey struggle to find a place to call home and keep it because of the increase in rent and the uncertainty of knowing how to pay it. According to NorthJersey.com, New Jersey is recognized as the eighth highest-priced state in the U.S. for purchasing a home, with an average property value of around $484,000. Additionally, it is positioned at 47th in terms of affordability for living expenses.

The demand for affordable housing has increased drastically, but the construction process has not kept up. 

Fair Share Housing Deputy Director Eric Dobson said more people are competing for marketplace housing because of insufficient affordable housing.

”The challenge is supply and demand. When you are underproducing housing, marketplace housing goes sky high because there is not enough affordable housing for people who are working to sustain the minimum wage or livable wage,” Dobson said.

Dobson also stated that the waiting lists for affordable housing can last up to seven years or longer.

Winter said that DCA offers assistance programs but often receives more applications than they can fund.

“Unfortunately, just like across the country the demand for these programs is much higher than the number of vouchers we can fund,” Winter said. 

According to a 2023 Fair Share Housing report, 22,000 affordable units were built between 2015 and 2022, but some hindrances have halted the construction. 

“Local municipalities control their zoning around housing, and we see that that’s an issue. In a state as small as New Jersey, there are 566 municipalities. So all these 566 municipalities have their own zoning boards and it’s designed that way to exclude,” Dobson said.

Micah Rasmussen, Director of the Rebovich Institute For New Jersey Politics, said municipalities could lose their immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits if affordable housing deadlines are not met. 

“This would mean that the town has neglected its obligations [and] the court takes away all of the towns’ discretions and says to the builder go ahead,” said Michah Rasmussen, Director of Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics,” Rasmussen said. “Towns want to avoid that.”

Winter encouraged people to check DCA’s website for information about resources.

”We can’t always [offer] a voucher. Unfortunately, the need is so much greater, but we have other resources that might help people bring their bills down in one way or another,” Winter said. 

The new law is one of several steps the state has taken to address the affordable housing crisis. According to WHYY, Murphy signed a law in January 2023 to speed up building inspection times. 

This story was produced as part of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University’s South Jersey Information Equity Project fellowship and supported with funding from the Independence Public Media Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the NJ Civic Information Consortium.