Talk about a stacked deck.

Municipalities that have been acting in good faith to make sure affordable-housing funds are spent properly may soon see those funds disappear.

The New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing is getting ready to take as much as $150 million in unspent affordable-housing funds from municipalities and hand it over to the Christie administration to balance the budget.

But the reason most of those funds are unspent is because municipalities have been waiting for guidelines and approvals from COAH. Towns can only spend the money - from trust funds financed by development fees - if they get that approval.

And the reason they haven't gotten that approval? COAH hasn't met in more than two years.

Last week's meeting, where the council laid the groundwork for transferring unspent money to the state, was the first time COAH had met since Gov. Chris Christie disbanded it in a 2011 reorganization.

In August 2012 the Appellate Division of Superior Court stopped the Department of Community Affairs from taking unspent affordable housing funds, ruling that only COAH had the authority to do so.

So COAH, which Christie disbanded so the state could appropriate the housing funds, has been reconstituted so the state can appropriate the funds.

You almost have to admire the symmetry - and the chutzpah.

In its 1975 Mount Laurel decision, the state Supreme Court said municipal zoning had to include affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, the elderly and the disabled. Subsequent cases reaffirmed and broadened the ruling. In 1985, the Legislature created COAH to help towns deal with the ramifications of this decision.

Whatever you think of the Mount Laurel decision, it is simply unfair to tell towns they have to build affordable housing and then make it so difficult to get plans approved that they lose the money to do so.

It is even worse to confiscate these funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when so many towns need help rebuilding. The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey says about $80 million of the money would be taken from towns in the nine counties hardest hit by last year's superstorm.

While some towns spent affordable-housing funds quickly, others have held onto the money, waiting for guidelines from COAH. Galloway Township, for instance, has more than $1.6 million in its trust fund.

We have seen Christie and previous governors seize various accounts to try to balance the state budget. But seizing affordable-housing funds - in effect taking that money away from the most vulnerable state residents - and punishing towns that tried to follow the law is particularly outrageous.


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