The township council's proposal to allow the developer of the Montclair Center Gateway Project to move its mandated affordable housing units elsewhere in town met with resistance from the Montclair Housing Commission on Monday.
Housing Commission voiced its disapproval at the start of the week of the council’s ordinance to allow the developer of the six-story CentroVerde project to place its required affordable housing units in another part of town.
Harold Simon, a commissioner, said the council was sending a negative message about the township with this ordinance.
“[It] is not really a progressive attitude for a progressive town,” said Simon.
The council unanimously passed a first reading of the ordinance last week. It was suggested by the council that the development's affordable housing units may be placed in the 1st or 2nd wards where there is little affordable housing.
The 3.3-acre development is located in the 3rd Ward between Orange and Valley roads. The project will have 330 units, and construction is expected to start in the fall of 2013. By law, 30 units in the development have to be set aside for affordable housing.
The Housing Commission warned moving the units could potentially lead to segregated housing. In addition, the council's ordinance raised more questions than answers, members of the commission said, and could throw the fate of the units themselves in jeopardy.
“[The commission’s] position is that we are against the units going off site, and we are against the ordinance to allow a proposal to put those units off site,” said Tessa Schultz, chairwoman of the commission. “All of the affordable units ... should stay on site at CentroVerde."
The commission’s other concerns about relocating the affordable housing units included:
• A lack of guidelines, timetable, and plan for the construction of off-site units.
• Whether the same number of units will be built off site.
• Whether the quality of the off-site units will be the same as those proposed in CentroVerde.
• Whether money will be readily available to construct the units.
Any proposal to move the units off site will be sent to the commission. However, the commission’s role is only advisory.
Schultz added that the township’s plan was too “vague,” and could potentially allow the developer to not immediately build the units elsewhere in town.
For example, the site plan of the six-story project requires that a minimum number of affordable housing units be built on schedule with the overall project. When half the market-rate units are constructed, at least half of the affordable housing units must be built as well.
However, it is not clear whether moving the affordable housing units off site would effect these requirements.
Commissioner William Scott said the council’s proposal was a “significant change” to the project’s plan and local housing laws. In addition, Scott questioned whether the units would even be built.
“This change to the [local housing law] that would allow the developer to move affordable housing units off site to a nonspecified designated project that isn’t even in the planning stages is just wishful thinking,” said Scott. “Why would you stop a commitment currently on the table for something that’s not even in the making.”
Schultz said that the council’s pursuit to assume the prerogative in moving the affordable housing units is a break from the past.
“Now it seems like the mayor is changing the commission’s role and structure, so we are not really sure where we [the commission] is going to fit in...,” said Schultz.
The council relayed the proposed ordinance to the Planning Board and is awaiting its review. The ordinance is expected to come up on second reading before the council in November or December.