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Court could foil Christie‚??s fiat

March 16. 2013 9:35PM
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The New Jersey Supreme Court should block Gov. Christie's latest attempt to roll back its landmark rulings on affordable housing.

Christie provoked a standoff over the court's Mount Laurel decisions in 2011, when he attempted to unilaterally abolish the bipartisan board created to carry out the court's affordable-housing directives. Christie wants to transfer the functions of the Council on Affordable Housing, which is independent of the governor, to the state Department of Community Affairs, which is run by a member of his cabinet.

An appellate court declared Christie's move unconstitutional last year, and the Supreme Court recently heard arguments on appeal. Affordable-housing advocates argued correctly that dismantling the independent agency would undermine decades of work and allow towns to shirk their obligations under the Mount Laurel rulings.

By limiting housing opportunities to the relatively wealthy, some towns deny the teachers, police officers and shopkeepers who work in them opportunities to live in them, too. Young people also find they can't afford to live in the communities where they grew up.

During the arguments before the Supreme Court last week, justices reacted with rightful skepticism to the Christie administration's assertion that the governor has the authority to destroy independent state agencies like the Council on Affordable Housing. That's a presumptuous position even for the abundantly confident governor.

Rather than scrapping COAH, it would be better to retool the agency to make it more effective and close the loopholes that have allowed towns to escape their obligations.

The court's rulings in these cases could have a far-reaching impact not just on affordable housing, but also on the state's other independent agencies, which serve crucial functions such as enforcing campaign-finance law and representing indigent defendants. The high court should reaffirm its affordable-housing principles and rein in the governor.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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