By Joshua Burd
As the state Supreme Court weighs the issue of affordable housing, stakeholders will gather later this month to shed light on the issue and tackle one of New Jersey’s most divisive and seemingly unsolvable public policy questions of the past three decades.
They will do so at a conference hosted by the Rutgers Center for Real Estate, which is slated for Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Newark Museum in Newark. Organizers say the event will bring together experts from all sides of what has been an intense debate, while highlighting how developers and policymakers have tried to address the issue outside the Garden State.
“What we’ve tried to do is provide keynoters that have experience about aspects of affordable housing, while also setting the stage as to what has occurred in the past and where we are today,” said Ron Ladell, a senior vice president with AvalonBay Communities Inc. “And then (we’ll) follow through with what we think may happen in the near- and long-term future.”
The conference — titled “The Mount Laurel Doctrine: Where We Are & What Happens Now?” — comes as the state judiciary attempts to settle the decades-old issue of zoning for low- and moderate-income housing. Across the state, Superior Court judges are overseeing negotiations between local officials and housing advocates over how many affordable units should be developed in each municipality, resulting in both settlements and fierce legal battles.
The negotiations follow years of inaction and litigation tied to the Council on Affordable Housing, which prompted the court to strip the agency of its duties last year.
Meantime, the high court is now hearing an appeal focused on the so-called gap years going back to 1999, in which developers and towns were without clear guidelines. Affordable housing advocates say that roughly 100,000 units are needed to make up for the lack of development during those years, a number that has municipalities and their attorneys pushing back.
Stakeholders on both sides of that battle will be on hand at the Dec. 15 conference, which is expected to draw up to 200 and include two panel discussions. The first panel, moderated by Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. attorney Meryl Gonchar, will dissect the history of affordable housing policy — doing so with a diverse group that includes veteran state officials and professionals in planning, law and development:
- Shirley Bishop, president and owner of Shirley M. Bishop, PP, LLC and former executive director of the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing
- Chuck Richman, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs
- Rob Kasuba, attorney with Bisgaier Hoff
- Paul Phillips, principal at Phillips, Preiss, Gyrgiel LLC
- Milton Pratt, senior vice president with The Michaels Organization
Ladell, AvalonBay’s top executive in New Jersey, will moderate a second panel that will discuss potential solutions and paths forward. The group also includes key players from both the public and private sector.
- State Sen. Kip Bateman
- Michael Cerra, assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities
- Brett Tanzman, senior vice president of Garden Homes
- Tony Marchetta, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency
- Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center
Keynote speakers will include Jonathan F.P. Rose, founder and president of Jonathan Rose Cos. LLC, who has developed affordable housing across the country. The second speaker, Mass Housing Executive Director Thomas Gleason, is slated to discuss how affordable housing policy has been developed and implemented in Massachusetts under the statute known as Chapter 40B.
Ladell expects Rose’s presentation to highlight innovation in the development of low- and moderate-income homes, he said, while the latter should offer a potential alternative or starting point for breaking the stalemate in New Jersey.
“Most people in New Jersey believe that (Chapter 40B), which is much better and more productive and more practical than what goes on in New Jersey, has been the benchmark and the standard throughout the country,” Ladell said. “So we reached out to him, as a person who has a wealth of experience in implementing Chapter 40B to educate people in New Jersey about what another state does and how it’s worked — or how it didn’t work and what they could do to improve it.”
The conference will take place at 49 Washington St. in Newark, with registration and breakfast starting at 7:30 a.m. and the program beginning at 8:15 a.m. The cost to register is $225 from Dec. 2 to Dec. 14, while on-site tickets will be $250 at the event, space permitting.
Additional information and registration details are available at the Center for Real Estate’s event page.