Affordable housing discussions between Princeton and advocacy group continue

The town is in mediation with a Cherry Hill-based advocacy group over the municipality’s court-mandated affordable housing obligation, with neither side willing to disclose details of their discussions.

The Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) and Princeton had been pitted against each other during a trial in Mercer County to determine what the municipality’s housing obligation would be. In May, a judge set Princeton’s total, for a span from 1999 to 2025, at 753 affordable units—although there would be credits for units already built during that time.

Princeton needs to submit a housing plan, that would explain how it intends to meet that total, to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson for approval. FSHC would also have to accept the town’s plan, said a source familiar with matter.

Back in May, Princeton released a list of proposed sites where 1,259 new units of housing, including 308 affordable units, could go. Those locations include the 36 acres of Princeton University-owned property on Harrison Street known as the Butler Tract. Officials said their proposal showed how 450 units—of which 90 would be set aside as affordable units—could be built there.

When asked on July 23 about the latest on the affordable housing case, town Administrator Marc D. Dashield referred to what he called “settlement discussions with Fair Share.”

“The judge had both of us sit down,” he said. “If we can agree on the sites, we don’t have to do a fairness hearing.”

“We’re talking about the sites at this point,” Dashield continued. “What we’re doing now is, what we’re proposing as units have to go before the judge in a hearing in the future. If we can sit down with Fair Share and we can all agree on those sites, it helps us when we get to that point and it wouldn’t be necessary to go through the entire process.”

Anthony Campisi, a Fair Share spokesman, said on July 24 that “I don’t think we’re ready to comment on anything that’s being discussed at this point.”

In May, Jacobson set Princeton’s affordable housing requirement for that 1999 to 2025 period. The town has stated that it had built “hundreds of units of affordable housing” since 1999, and the municipality would receive credit for those and other bonus credits toward its overall obligation.

“Because all of the newly built housing has been rental, Princeton will be entitled to receive bonus credit for its recently built units,” the municipality had said in an informational sheet released in May.

Jacobson’s decision came at the end of a lengthy trial in which Princeton and other Mercer County towns found themselves on one side and Fair Share Housing on the other.

The implications of her ruling will have impacts for the town.

The local school district, which has been growing in recent years, is expecting student enrollment to rise well into the next decade. By 2027, it said it expects to have more than 4,500 students in a school system that as recently as 2012 had 3,440 students.

This fall, the district is planning to have on the ballot a $129.6 million facilities referendum to meet space and other needs that include building a new school for fifth-and sixth-graders.