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The Garden State Takes a New Approach to Expanding Affordable Housing

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Housing Policy + Finance

The Garden State Takes a New Approach to Expanding Affordable Housing

Recent legislation in New Jersey could provide inspiration for eliminating affordable housing hurdles in other places with strong housing markets


March 26, 2024
Aerial view of Trenton, NJ, skyline with state capitol.
Image: mandritoiu / stock.adobe.com

The costs of renting or owning a home have increased markedly nationwide and states have been left to wrestle with the problem of how to get local governments to enable the creation of more affordable housing options for residents. A new law recently signed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy aims to clarify how much affordable housing every municipality in his state is expected to provide in coming years, Route Fifty reports.

Prior to the law, courts dictated that New Jersey towns and cities must provide affordable housing, but it was then up to judges to determine—case by case—the minimum number of housing units those municipalities should deliver. Setting statewide standards lets city leaders know what’s expected of them regarding affordable housing without relying on the courts. And New Jersey is not alone; other U.S. states with strong housing markets, such as California and Massachusetts, have also adopted similar approaches recently. 

Adam Gordon, executive director of advocacy group Fair Share Housing Center, drew attention to how different land-use and zoning policies in New Jersey were accelerating the state's affordable housing progress: Compared with its neighbor, New York, New Jersey towns issued eight times as many permits as their counterparts on Long Island in 2023, despite economic similarities and the fact that New Jersey has less than half New York's population. 

The law Murphy signed this week, Gordon said, is a refinement of a “proven system.” It will allow local governments to develop their own housing plans, with incentives to build places to live for older people and for people with disabilities. It would also encourage development near rail stations, particularly those close to New York. But if local leaders don’t produce an adequate plan, residents or developers could still sue to go ahead with their own proposals.

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