To the Editor:
After reading Mr. Lester’s recent letter to the editor, I have to wonder whether he isn’t following the process or if he is simply being intentionally misleading.
Most residents are thinking about the best possible plan for the mandatory development in our town, not worrying about local party politics,and I hope everyone taking part can do the same. I was at the Public Information Session on Affordable Housing on September 79. Mr. Lester was present at the same meeting I attended, but he has noticeably omitted these important facts that are essential to understanding the situation:
1) Affordable Housing has been a state-mandated program since the 1980s. Townships throughout New Jersey are required to set aside land for Affordable Housing through their zoning laws.
2) You can thank Chris Christie for this having gone to the courts. He decided not to create guidelines for affordable housing plans, so now the issue has been pushed into the court system. The Hopewell Township Committee was required to work with the courts to determine the number of Affordable Housing units it needs to make available over the next 15 years. Hopewell Township has to follow state law or suffer the consequences. The courts have already been downright punitive to communities that have not followed Affordable Housing law, saddling them with commitments far beyond the original numbers and giving the municipality less control over the development process and the end result.
3) It was originally determined that Hopewell would need to provide 1,756 Affordable Housing units. Working across party lines, the Hopewell Township Committee negotiated that number down to 653. That number is guaranteed not to go up, and it may decrease depending on future court actions and market conditions. Before construction even begins, if the developers find that there is no demand for new homes, they won’t build the market rate or affordable homes simply to fulfill the settlement. The court only mandates the opportunity for developers to build units. There won’t be houses being built just to sit empty.
4) It is not possible to build affordable housing in New Jersey and break even; some subsidy is needed or the housing will not be built. In order for the Court to agree that the Township has provided builders a reasonable opportunity to provide affordable housing, the Township had to accept a minimum number of market units that would allow the developer to make some profit. The Christie Administration recommended that for every one unit of Affordable Housing, nine new market rate homes should be built. The Hopewell Township Committee negotiated the ratio from nine units down to four. Mr. Lester complains that there will be 3000 new homes – imagine if that had been 17,000 new homes in Hopewell. (According to Mr. Lester’s math, that’s 17 developments the size of Brandon Farms.) We have the Hopewell Township Committee to thank for this decrease.
5) Affordable Housing was clearly explained to the public. The program allows low- to middle-income families to live in communities such as Hopewell. The new teachers in our school district, starting police officers on our force, and the nurses and technicians in our hospital would be eligible to live in affordable housing in Hopewell Township. They are already respected members of our community, this program would allow us to welcome them as residents too.
6) We will have multiple opportunities to give input when the builders develop plans for the community. In response to concerns the community has voiced about possible new traffic, the Township Committee has already taken the preemptive step of distributing these potential new developments across three different exits of I-95. Residents concerned about environmental, traffic, public safety, and other impacts should attend those meetings and push back against the builders’ plans as they see fit. Under court pressure, the Township has merely rezoned these lands to make them available for development.
Mr. Lester can call this the “Great Hopewell Giveaway” all he wants, but the word giveaway implies that we have a choice. We do not. His alternative, an indefinite court battle, would eventually end up right where we are now, but would have the added “bonus” of costing the township thousands of dollars each day in legal fees and even more housing commitments because we would be penalized. Which is a greater “giveaway”: allowing investment in our community as we are legally required to do, or paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers to end up back where we are now? Mr. Lester’s talk is cheap. Unfortunately, another legal battle is not.