Over 150 Housing Advocates Converge at State House, Urge Legislators to Address Housing Affordability and Security Crisis

Leaders say NJ must create more homes, keep people safe during extreme heat

TRENTON –Over 150 housing advocates and community leaders came to the State House in Trenton yesterday to urge members of the NJ Legislature to boost housing opportunities for NJ residents. Advocates told lawmakers to expand the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, double the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit, implement statewide Code Red standards, eliminate racial bias in property appraisals and end credit score consideration for tenants with rental vouchers.

“Our state leaders can – and must – take bold, concrete steps to make NJ a place everyone can afford to call home,” said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network). “NJ’s severe shortage of available and affordable homes is contributing to our staggering racial wealth gap, the largest in the nation. To address the economic disparities and meet the persistent need for affordable, safe places to live, the Legislature must invest in successful programs and subsides that produce healthy, affordable homes.”

Network members came to Trenton to participate in the organization’s annual Legislative Day where they had the chance to discuss pressing issues in their communities with their representatives. A key item of their agenda is to protect and grow the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) which is increasingly being utilized to fund housing security, stability and affordability programs in addition to meeting its main goal of building more affordable himes . To preserve the intended use of the Trust Fund and ensure that construction and rehabilitation resources remain available to fill the need for more affordable homes to be built, the Network offered the following recommendations:

• Expand the realty transfer fee: Expand the fee, the primary funding source for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, so that it is progressive and collects more revenue from the sale of very expensive homes. This revenue could be used to support first-time/first-generation homeownership opportunities, like the programs at the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, and others to help address the racial wealth gap.
• Lower the rent: Enact a luxury landlord corporate tax which would be a fee on for-profit, luxury developments that could be forgiven or refunded if the landlord provides affordable units through inclusionary zoning and/or keeps rent increases at a reasonable rate.
• Make evictors pay: Increase the eviction filing fee, currently about $50, as a disincentive to landlords and as a mechanism to expand revenue for eviction diversion and housing counseling programs.

Advocates also spoke to lawmakers about doubling the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit Program (NRTC). The NRTC, which the Network helped to create in 2002, is among the state’s most successful tax-credit programs because it intentionally requires an approved neighborhood plan devised with community stakeholders. The program is underfunded, capped at $15 million. A budget resolution has been introduced by Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex/Mercer/Somerset/Hunterdon) and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic) that would increase the cap to $30 million in the fiscal year 2025 state budget.

“The NRTC leverages $5-7 for every dollar invested while strengthening neighborhoods and creating affordable homes and jobs,” said Berger. “The current cap restricts the program’s potential; it should be doubled to further unlock its capabilities.”

The Assembly Housing Committee also held a hearing today where Legislative Day participants testified on the need to pass statewide Code Red standards. The bill, A2258/S2346, sponsored by Assembly Housing Chair Yvonne Lopez, Assemblywoman Tenille McCoy and Senators Shirley Turner and Angela McKnight, creates a Code Red alert pilot program to shelter at-risk individuals during hot weather.

“Each summer, temperature records are being shattered and heat waves are becoming more frequent,” said Connie Mercer, chief executive officer of the Coalition to End Homelessness. “Having statewide Code Red standards is long overdue and we encourage Governor Murphy and the Legislature to enact the Code Red bill into law without delay. It would be inhumane to leave our most vulnerable out in the sweltering heat.”

“As front-line providers at Bridges Outreach, we wish to elevate the voices of those neighbors experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the face of unprecedented temperature changes,” said Richard Uniacke, president, Bridges Outreach. “Code Red and Code Blue standards go a long way toward providing safe, temporary options for some of the most vulnerable among us. The folks we see every day are at increased risk to extreme temperatures, so any time we’re advised to avoid or reduce exposure, we must not forget those community members who do not have the luxury of staying home.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are only 30 affordable rental homes available for every 100 extremely low-income households in the Garden State. Their latest report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, finds that 74 percent of extremely low-income renters in New Jersey are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing, with little left over for food, healthcare, and other basic necessities.

“Housing is a human right, no person should face the danger of losing their home,” said Berger. “Our legislators need to do more, in this budget cycle and before they leave for the summer, to HouseNJ.”

About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 270 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities. For more information on the Network, visit www.hcdnnj.org.

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