Courts Stop Trust Fund Raid, Request Must Come From COAH
The courts stopped a request from the state, which gave towns until July 17 to spend or account for money raised by their affordable housing trust funds.
Courts ruled Friday morning that Gov. Chris Christie does not have the authority to empty the trust funds of municipalities participating in the Council on Affordable Housing Program.
The state, as part of the 2008 reform, gave towns until July 17 of this year to spend or account for money raised by their affordable housing trust funds. According to the state Department of Community Affairs, there was $169 million in unspent affordable housing money statewide sitting in local trust funds as of April 4 of this year.
Now, the State Superior Court has granted an injunction, applying to all participating New Jersey municipalities, stating Gov. Chris Christie has no authority to ask municipalities to empty COAH trust funds, and such an order must come from COAH itself.
In an effort to protect the money it collected through mandatory development fees, Ocean City earmarked $2.65 million in May for two projects: a $550,000 roof replacement for affordable housing at Peck's Beach Village; and $2.1 million for age-restricted housing at one of two potential sites — the Bellevue Hotel at Eighth Street and Ocean Avenue or a public lot at Sixth Street and Haven Avenue.
"The state is in violation of the court order," Hornik said in July.
Friday's decision stated the Acting Executive Director of COAH did not send the letters or approve the demand for trust fund money, therefore the request reached beyond the authority of the governor. Any funds that were turned over to the state by municipalities must be returned.
"The governor has overstepped his proper role again," said Kevin D. Walsh, an attorney with Fair Share Housing Center in a news release. "The law entrusts the independent COAH Board with the power to implement the Fair Housing Act. The governor is not a king. He has to comply with the laws on the books."
In March, an appeals panel overturned Christie's reorganization of COAH, saying the governor lacked authority to abolish an independent agency.