The following is a response to an article in the Feb. 28 issue of the News titled, “Fair Share Housing Center offers its side of the affordable housing argument.”
Affordable housing in West Windsor is a volatile topic, inciting otherwise reasonable people into self-righteous hyperbole.
All because in this town, with its farming history and inadequate road network, there are open spaces tempting to residential developers, and because, in the past, courts have sided with the builders and their allies, forcing us to allow them to build less affordable housing, so they could make more money.
Adversaries like Fair Share Housing Center and their partner the New Jersey Builders Association have positioned themselves as champions of people in need of housing they can afford to live in, and have painted West Windsor as an enemy of all that is just, fair, and reasonable.
They cite our reluctance to change our zoning to allow for the overwhelming number of affordable units (1,900) that their experts recommend—a number amounting to 10 percent of our existing housing stock, and the market-rate units (approximately four market-rate units for every afforable unit) that make this enterprise so attractive to developers. They accuse West Windsor of not welcoming poorer people or disabled people into our community. But their hostility is misplaced.
West Windsor is one of the top producers of affordable housing in the state. We have 675 occupied affordable housing units, 31 that were built but whose affordability controls have expired, and 84 under or shortly to be under construction.
In order to provide those 790 affordable units, the township has approved a total of 4,197 housing units. That’s 81 percent market rate and 19 percent affordable.
If we were to produce the number of affordable units the Fair Share Housing Center and the New Jersey Builders Association wants us to produce, at the same 19 percent overall affordable rate we achieved in the previous affordable housing cycles, we would be adding 5,900 housing units over the next decade and looking at a population increase of at least a third. This would place an unconscionable burden on our residents, our schools and our roads.
Not only is West Windsor already a high producer of affordable housing—with numerous new projects working their way through the approval process, we have policies in place to enhance the quality of life for people who live in them.
We have an ordinance setting minimum square footage for affordable units. Our Affordable Housing Committee scrutinizes plans to make sure the affordable units are designed with all the amenities standard for market rate units, like sufficient closet space, and are integrated into the rest of their community.
We are one of the few municipalities to have a state-approved spending plan for our affordable housing impact fees. The plan includes contributions to offset costs for developers of 100 percent affordable projects like Project Freedom, as well as an Energy Efficiency Program, which helps income-qualified people, whether they live in designated affordable units or not, to upgrade their heating and cooling systems to save on utility bills, thus making housing more affordable.
Fair Share Housing Center, if it really cares not just about affordable units but about the people who live in them, should stop opposing West Windsor and use their goodwill to work with us to attract more nonprofit developers interested in coming to our community, so that we can fulfil our obligation, whatever it turns out to be, with a minimum of impact.
When it comes to affordable housing, West Windsor is one of the good guys.
— Alison Miller
Miller is West Windsor Council vice president and member of the Affordable Housing Committee.