Englewood City Council Grapples with Affordable Housing Mandate Amid Community Concerns

The Englewood City Council met recently in a joint telephonic and virtual meeting, held in collaboration with the Planning Board. The main focus of the session was affordable housing obligations, a contentious issue driven by state laws and court rulings.

John Sabo, senior planner at Burgess Associates, presented the affordable housing requirements for municipalities, a ruling originating from a New Jersey Supreme Court decision. According to Sabo, this obligation is calculated based on statewide needs, then allocated to regions and individual municipalities. He reminded the attendees that this obligation was constitutional, and all municipalities must comply.

Englewood City, classified as a ‘vacant land adjustment community’ due to its scarcity of vacant land, faces significant obligations. It is responsible for 819 potential affordable housing units. However, the city received a series of credits and already has plans to build 76 new affordable housing units, resulting in an ‘unmet need’ of 640 units. The council discussed collaboration with housing agencies, like the Bergen County Housing rehabilitation program, to fulfill this mandate.

The council has proposed a three-prong strategy to meet this need. First, it will create overlay zones, permitting multi-family residential development. Second, it will allow nonprofit organizations to bid on projects to build affordable housing units using funds already set aside by the town. These funds were raised from developers and building permits and cannot be used for any other purpose. Finally, the city will also require that any new multi-family residential development of five or more units must include at least 20% affordable housing units. However, the city clarified that while these proposals create an opportunity, they do not enforce an obligation for new housing units.

While some residents were pleased that this strategy does not mandate the construction of affordable housing units, others were concerned that such a strategy would leave many residents without access to housing they can afford.

Mayor Michael Wildes questioned the transparency of the decision-making process, suggesting that the city should purchase properties for affordable housing, as this might offer more control than creating overlay zones. This was countered by city officials, who emphasized that the city was not legally obliged to build a specific number of units.

In an animated debate about affordable housing and transparency in decision-making processes, Council President Judy Marin stressed that property owners under the overlay zones were under no obligation to comply with any developmental plans. She emphasized the potential consequences of not approving the current plan, particularly in light of the upcoming fourth round of housing needs evaluation. The possibility of a builder’s remedy lawsuit, which could wrest control from the municipality, was underscored. She did not, however, promise to also pursue more aggressive policies in addition to this plan, such as using city funds or property to build housing.

Community members also voiced concerns. They questioned the concentrated placement of affordable housing units around Angle Street, the potential impact of increased population on schools, police, and commercial areas, and the perceived rush to complete the project.

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