Holmdel officials approve settlement with Fair Share Housing Center

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HOLMDEL – Township Committee members have authorized an amended settlement agreement that is expected to satisfy Holmdel’s third round affordable housing obligation. The 2018 settlement calls for 223 affordable housing units.

“This 2018 settlement generates 247 less roofs than the previous 2017 settlement,” Township Planner Jennifer Beahm said.

During a Dec. 18 council meeting, attorney Andrew Bayer, who represents Holmdel on matters relating to affordable housing, presented the details of the revised settlement agreement to members of the Township Committee and the public. The agreement is between the township and the Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill.

The Fair Share Housing center advocates for the construction of affordable housing throughout New Jersey.

Bayer said Holmdel has been granted immunity to builder’s remedy lawsuits as a result of the township’s good faith participation in the affordable housing process.

A developer may file legal action that is referred to as a builder’s remedy lawsuit if he believes a municipality has not provided an opportunity for the development of affordable housing.

Holmdel’s representatives had the benefit of determining how to fulfill their obligation to provide opportunities for the development of affordable housing units in town, Bayer said, rather than being ordered by a court how and where to include low and moderate income housing in the community.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below market rates to individuals and families whose income meets certain guidelines.

Prior to discussion of the affordable housing settlement, Mayor Tom Critelli recused himself from the matter and handed the meeting over to Deputy Mayor Gregory Buontempo. 

Committeeman Eric Hinds sought to clarify the matter for members of the public, saying, “So the state, through the courts, gives us a mandate. We ran the risk of a higher number (of affordable housing units) vs. acting on what we have (agreed to build). This is not a choice for us. We were given a directive.

“… A builder is not going to build (an affordable housing unit) without getting (to build) three or four market rate units. For the benefit of the public, if I had to build 10 (affordable housing) units, that builder would generally want (to build) 50 homes. So for every time I can reduce my (affordable housing) units, I am not reducing it by that number. I’m really reducing it by five,” Hinds said.

Hinds said if a municipality’s affordable housing plan does not include enough affordable housing for people of all ages – what are referred to as family units – the plan can be rejected by state officials. In other words, all of the affordable housing a municipality approves cannot just be for people age 55 and over.

Hinds asked Bayer to clarify the difference between affordable housing units and the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8 housing) which provides assistance to low- and moderate-income families.

Bayer said Section 8 housing is not proposed in Holmdel’s affordable housing settlement agreement. He said the two forms of development are “significantly different.”

Beahm said, “we want to minimize the impact and the number of new roofs (i.e., housing units).” She said it is predicted that 93 school-age children could reside in the new housing units that are created by the settlement agreement.

The planner went on to say, “There is a group home on Stillwell Road that has 15 bedrooms and as a result, the township gets credit for each bedroom in that group home as affordable housing. There was an assisted living facility approved … that facility has 110 beds. Ten percent are Medicaid beds and the township does get credit per Medicaid bed. (These projects) are consistent in both the 2017 and the 2018 settlement agreements.”

Beahm said there was a renegotiation with the developer of a project on North Beers Street where originally 150 total units with a set-aside of 30 affordable units were proposed. At present, she said, 66 market rate units and 31 affordable units have been agreed on for that site.

“We have cut that development down by 53 units overall,” she said.

Beahm said a development proposed for a site on Middle Road will now be a 100 percent affordable housing municipally sponsored project and include 50 affordable housing units.

Finally, there will be a 10-unit increase at a Palmer Avenue development site, Beahm said, for a total of 60 housing units, with 12 units set aside as affordable housing and 48 market rate units.

During public comment, resident Chris Devito asked if the municipality has the authority to examine the tax returns of an individual who lives in an affordable housing unit to ensure that person’s income continues to meets the financial guidelines.

“I have seen people make the (required affordable housing) income and then a year later they are making double that amount and they are still there,” Devito said. “They are taking away (housing) from someone who probably does qualify.”

Hinds interjected, saying, “It’s sickening … There is no system to inspect … It’s a disaster and you should write to every single state legislator you have. This is not our fight, unfortunately, but this is awful. You are absolutely right, this is abused.”

Other residents expressed apprehension regarding the size of specific projects included in the settlement agreement and noted existing flooding issues near the proposed housing site on Palmer Avenue.

“We are statutorily required to zone for these projects,” Beahm said.

On a roll call vote, Committeeman Rocco Pascucci, Committeeman Michael Nikolis and Hinds voted “yes” to approve the revised settlement agreement. Buontempo voted “no.”

Bayer said a fairness hearing regarding the settlement agreement between Holmdel and the Fair Share Housing Center will be held in state Superior Court next year. A judge will review the proposed settlement in what is a regular part of the affordable housing process.