April 17, 2017
There is an animated debate in town about the Nelson Street affordable housing proposal. CFR is putting together several articles to provide background and context in reference to this debate. First, we’ll provide perspective on the way people qualify for this housing. There have been some voices in town portraying the State affordable housing program as one which will open floodgates to undesirable neighbors and create slums in our midst.
Many people don’t realize that hundreds of affordable housing units already exist throughout Readington Township. The town has been very proactive in meeting its State-mandated obligations for these units. For example, units exist in Whitehouse Village, in Lake Cushetunk, and in new developments along Route 22.
The intention of the State program is to create living units for citizens who have lower than average incomes. Thus the income qualification compares someone’s income to the median income in the Region in question. Hunterdon, Somerset, and Middlesex Counties comprise Region 3, which has the highest median income in the state. This results in the income range for affordable housing also to be higher than the State average. (1)
The rules for building these units, for income ranges, and for selection of families are defined by the State. Those rules are administered by Township officials and by the owners of the affordable units. (2) The State rules for the units mean that 43.5% would be for moderate income, 43.5% would be for low income and only 13% would be for very low income.
Basically, affordable housing within a development will have 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom units. Potential residents are classified into three income categories: moderate, low, and very low. The bedroom units are assigned to income groups by a State formula. This results in nine categories of units: one bedroom units for 1) moderate, 2) low, and 3) very low incomes; two bedroom units for 4) moderate, 5) low, and 6) very low incomes; and three bedroom units for 7) moderate, 8) low and 9) very low incomes. In the planning stage of the development, the rental price and utility costs are determined for each of these 9 categories.
The income categories are defined as follows:
For a reference point, Hunterdon’s median income in 2014 is $73,500 for a one person family and is $105,000 for a four person family. A family of four with an income of up to $84,000 would qualify for affordable housing in Hunterdon County, as would a single person with an income up to $58,800.
There are also minimum income thresholds for affordable housing to ensure the occupants do not spend more than 35% of their household income on the predetermined rent and utilities. And since many units are rentals, the rents have to be sufficiently high to allow landlords to cover their costs.
When new affordable units become available, the Township uses an affirmative marketing plan. Openings are advertised on the town, state and regional websites for a prescribed period of time. On a set date, the Township holds a lottery drawing for each of the 9 categories described above. Each applicant is ranked against these 9 categories. If the applicant fails in the qualification criteria, then the next person down the list is given the opportunity to qualify. Township officials assess the household size, the household income, and whether the 35% level of income for rents and utilities is exceeded. For example, the applicant may have to show their 2016 income tax return plus 4 current paystubs to prove that they still have that income level.
Once approved by the Township, the applicant has to be approved by the builder/landlord. Background checks, credit checks and references may be required. The landlord has to be satisfied that the occupants will pay the rent and will be good tenants. The landlord has to apply the same qualifying criteria to all applicants. If the landlord rejects a potential tenant, then the opportunity goes to the next name on the list and the process starts over with the Township’s qualification criteria.
Any characterization of affordable housing as a “slum” is inaccurate, and derogatory references to potential residents are not worthy of our community. This is certainly a complex issue; we will be providing additional information in further articles. Our aim is to share facts and help the community better understand the issues and impacts. Upcoming articles will cover Readington’s specific affordable housing obligations and a closer look at the Nelson Street proposal itself.