Under the Mount Laurel decisions, the Fair Housing Act of 1985, and regulations adopted by COAH, every municipality must satisfy its “rehabilitation” of existing housing obligation, its “prior round” obligation to zone to allow affordable housing, and its “Third Round” affordable housing obligation which is also referred to as the “fair share” obligation.
Westfield will satisfy its “rehabilitation” obligation share by participating in the Union County Home Improvement Program, where income-eligible households may apply for funding from the County housing rehabilitation program.
Westfield has already met its prior round obligation of 139 units from prior years.
The settlement agreement approved by the Court provides that Westfield’s “Third Round” prospective need obligation is 1090 affordable housing units. While that is quite large, the agreement recognizes that the Town is virtually fully developed and therefore unable to meet anywhere near this 1090 unit obligation. As a result, the Town is entitled to a Vacant Land Adjustment which reduces the affordable housing obligation provided through zoning from 1090 units to 62 units. This is referred to as the Town’s Realistic Development Potential (RDP).
The Town has already begun construction or completed new projects to meet this 62 unit RDP, such as 333 Central Ave. and 339 West Broad St. (former car wash).
The remaining issue is what happens with the difference between the Town’s “fair share” or “Third Round” number and its RDP. That difference is referred to as “unmet” need. In the Town’s case, its unmet need is 1028 (1090 – 62 = 1028).
The law provides that the Town must “address” its unmet need and Westfield is doing that by enacting overlay zones to offer the realistic opportunity to produce approximately 100 affordable housing units. This will be done through “inclusionary” zoning in designated areas which requires a developer to allocate between 15% to 20% of housing units as affordable (depending if they are rental or sales units). The remaining 80% to 85% of the units will be market rate units.
Thankfully, through discussion and negotiation of the Settlement Agreement terms, Westfield successfully proved that there was no place in which to build that many affordable housing units. However, the Town did agree to provide an opportunity for new affordable housing development via the establishment of new affordable housing overlay zones. (For comparison, the total number of affordable housing units that could be built in the overlay zones comes to approximately 100 units, which equates to maximum buildout of approximately 690 new units)
Finally, and very importantly, the Town was able to negotiate terms in the Settlement Agreement that do not allow developers to use “unmet need” as a legal basis for requiring the grant of additional re-zonings, variances, or other relief beyond what is specifically now agreed. The Town’s commitment to provide 100 units against the Town’s original unmet need requirement of 1028 has been determined as sufficient by the Court, and this number cannot go up.