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N.J. shifts affordable housing funds beyond state's inner cities

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 N.J. shifts affordable housing funds beyond state's inner cities

By Ted Sherman,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON--New affordable housing in New Jersey has long been planted, in large part, in communities where there are poor people.

But in a major change, the Christie Administration has begun steering more funding for low-income projects beyond just the urban neighborhoods of the state's largest cities.

Earlier this summer, the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency awarded $39.8 million in tax credits for low-income housing projects, earmarking 60 percent of those funds for proposed developments beyond Newark and Camden, officials said.

 

The credits, which will help finance 2,178 new housing units for working families, senior citizens and residents with special needs, were awarded to 29 projects in 14 counties across the state.

Suburban towns have been under mounting pressure to provide more affordable housing. Many of the projects on the list were developed in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling last year that handed power to the lower courts to decide on a case-by-case basis how many homes should be made available to low- and moderate-income residents in towns across the state.

The funding approved by the administration included $9 million in tax credits that were not awarded last year. In an unusual move, the HMFA also dipped into future credits that otherwise would have been handed out by the next administration. State housing officials, however, insisted there was nothing political about the early draw-down in funding.

"We saw the great demand for projects," said HMFA Executive Director Anthony Marchetta, adding that the state used future funding in the past for to help finance new housing in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

"We are given a substantial amount of flexibility on how we allocate," he said. "We can draw future allocations down if we feel necessary or beneficial."

Housing advocates, meanwhile, welcomed the basic shift in funding priorities, as well as the additional funding.

"They're focusing and targeting both the urban and suburban sides," said Adam Gordon, associate director of Fair Share Housing Center. "Are there things that can be improved upon? Yes--but the balance is a good thing."

He noted that in past years, the formula for funding was heavily weighted toward cost.

"They were funding the cheapest projects and it's cheapest to go to Camden, rather than places like Jersey City," said Gordon, pointing to the heavy gentrification pressures on Jersey City and the city's low-income housing needs.

"Now the preferences include job opportunities, schools and transportation.

New Jersey Future, a Trenton-based non-partisan group focused on land-use and growth policies, also favored the shift in the awarding of low-income tax credits

"I think New Jersey is ahead of the country in recognizing that continuing to encourage low-income housing in places that already have it just perpetuates the cycle of poverty," said research director Tim Evans, who has studied the state's funding plan.

At the same time, Evans called the tax credits a big deal.

"They're responsible for more low-income housing built than any other kind of aid," he said.

The credits will help leverage approximately $378 million in private equity, state officials said.

Marchetta said despite the shift, the state still commits 40 percent of its low-income tax credits to urban areas. Competition for the remaining dollars is based on a scoring matrix that includes communities with mass transit and train stations, better schools and lower concentrations of poverty.

This year, there were 60 applications from developers and 29 were funded.

"It is highly competitive," he said.

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The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey (SHA) is a statewide, nonprofit organization, founded in 1998, whose mission is to promote and maintain a strong supportive housing industry in New Jersey serving people with special needs.

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