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Affordable Housing Units Should Stay in CentroVerde, Says Housing Commission

The commission met on Monday and laid out a series of problems with the Montclair Council's proposal to move those units off site.

 

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. 

spotontarget October 24, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Disagree with this POV. This new Council is acting intelligently by modifying the affordable housing ordinance. The change allows negotiations with developers to potentially maximize tax ratables and maintain higher property values in one location, but also the flexibility, but not requirement to move a builder’s affordable housing contribution to another setting. As long as the transfer is dollar for dollar of equal “value” (yes, this can be subjective at different points in time) — having the flexibility can make both economic and quality of life sense. The proposed language is not a requirement that the Township agree to a developer’s request to shift location of the affordable units. However, it can allow the Township itself to also request a development transfer if it feels there's benefit. It creates potential for negotiated flexibility without locking the Town in. The Commission and residents can start crying foul when they see the value of a required affordable “contribution” shifted in a way that is not of equal value or equal benefit. Light the fire when someone is really giving away the store. Until then, there is nothing wrong letting the Manager, Council and Planning Board negotiate redevelopment contracts and site plans to maximize town revenues, while still fulfilling our affordable housing goals. Does it really matter if affordable units are moved from the 3rd to the 1st or 2nd wards? Not for me. Let’s take a big picture view.
Cary Africk October 24, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I agree with the Housing Commission and am opposed to moving the affordable units. This appears to be "financially motivated." These units are valuable, at CV. That value was taken into account when the Council chose to allowing the area to be declared an area in need of redevelopment which essentially allowed zoning to be ignored. It also paved the way for a tax reduction via a PILOT agreement. Put the units in CV. Sure would be a big help to learn who "Spoton" is. One could see where his "real" position in town might compromise his opinions for CV.
frank rubacky October 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Cary, Excellent insight.
spotontarget October 25, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Mr. Africk: I don't think you are grasping my position. I agree that those units, if kept at CV, are quite valuable. And that same value - dollar for dollar - can be calculated, collected and potentially moved to another location only if it makes sense. I'm not saying it should in this case. All I'm saying is that the ordinance gives the Town the flexibility to do so for this, or in future situations. Now, if you saw the developer trying to pull a fast one, say claiming that each unit was only really worth $30,000 each - which is the transfer amount for not building affordable housing within a multi-unit setting - and the council or planning board was going along with that - then one should get on the horse and start sending out the warning. Until then, this ordinance modification only provides needed flexibility. It allows us to maximize tax ratables in one location by potentially making a development worth more for taxing -- yes without the affordable units - but also allows those same units to be placed in another area that might be better suited and not hinder property values right there. Let's remember, social engineering in particular buildings is not the intention nor should it be purpose of our affordable housing goals. Con't
spotontarget October 25, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Con't from above Instead, making those units available to maintain 'townwide' diversity is the overall purpose. Whether those affordable units added are in the 1st, 2nd or 3 wards doesn't really matter. And had we not previously over-satuarated the 4th ward as has been shown, there's nothing wrong with having affordable units there as well. The point of the affordable policy is to add more units to help maintain economic and racial diversity in town. It is not to socially engineer particular developments and buildings. The ordinance modification only takes a big picture view.
frank rubacky October 28, 2012 at 04:01 PM
The very large problem spot is that by using Areas in Need of Redevelpment (ANR) designations, PILOTs, etc, we have effectively removed the normal mechanisms for control, oversight, review and public comment. The bulk of the Township's development strategy is focused on ANRs and public land which will relegate the Planning & Zoning Boards to advisory status - on par with the Historic Preservation Comm.
Marlis Dunn December 12, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Spotontarget is spot on!

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