This year is the 40th anniversary of the mess state government has made of ensuring there is a reasonable amount of affordable housing for New Jersey residents.

In 1975, the state Supreme Court issued its first "Mount Laurel" decision, filling a gaping void left by the Legislature and governors. The court attempted to ensure a degree of fairness to the provision of affordable housing by ruling that each municipality must provide its share.

That ruling spawned a bureaucratic nightmare, endless lawsuits, municipal foot-dragging and political fighting - but not so much affordable housing.

After four decades of wasteful warring, state government continues to leave its affordable housing policies, their implementation and enforcement mainly to the courts and a private nonprofit advocacy group, the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill.

That's ridiculous and unacceptable. A matter of such importance to all of the citizens of New Jersey must be handled by elected representatives of those citizens who are accountable to those citizens, not judges and social policy advocates.

Over the years, various state legislators and governors have tried to get started on straightening out this mess.

The latest is an upstate Republican, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Somerville, who introduced a package of bills this summer to reform affordable housing standards in New Jersey.

One bill would transfer responsibility for matters formerly handled by the Council on Affordable Housing, abolished in 2011, to the Department of Community Affairs. Another would provide towns with some relief from the court-ordered five-month deadline to file housing fair share plans. A third would have the Bloustein School at Rutgers determine affordable housing needs, from statewide down to each municipality.

Ciattarelli and some brave predecessors deserve credit for trying to get the Legislature to do its very important job of turning the will of the people of New Jersey into the fair and functional provision of affordable housing.

Are the ideas in the bills good? That's for the Legislature to decide.

Lately the dispute centers on whether the nonprofit's widely questioned estimate of affordable units needed - 200,000 in 10 years - is realistic, reasonable or even rational. A pair of studies by the N.J. League of Municipalities says 17,000 to 40,000 is more like it.

But even fishing for such a number begs the question - when will the citizens of New Jersey be represented in determining what should be done and how it's done regarding affordable housing?

Elected representatives have to do their jobs, take responsibility and hammer out agreements - not some unelected judiciary or even unknown members of interest groups. This is a democracy, after all, and 40 years is too long for it to work.

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