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  New Jersey's Affordable Housing Council Abolished
Last year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed a Housing Opportunity Task Force. Its purpose was to determine best practices and policies for meeting the state's affordable housing needs. One of the task force's more controversial recommendations was to dissolve the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), which it determined was inefficient and placed undue burdens on New Jersey communities.

COAH is not the only agency facing touch opposition these days. As the economy sputters through a slow recovery, and the housing market remains virtually unchanged, state and city governments across the country are reconsidering their affordable housing policies. Most of them are quick to ensure the public that the provision of safe, affordable, stable housing is still a priority - but the revamping of policies and agencies is all but inevitable given current fiscal realities.

In California, similar agencies - called Redevelopment Agencies - was also selected for elimination. That state's Governor Jerry Brown submitted a budget at the beginning of the year that called for dissolving of the agencies so the money they spend could be used to shore up California's significant budget shortfall. Agencies were given the option of "opting in" to a new kind of program that only allows them to continue operating if they pay a fee to the state. While it's a viable option for some, for many agencies, the fee exceeds available funds, forcing them to cease operations.

In New Jersey, the debate over COAH continued all year, to varying degrees, since the task force's recommendations were made public. Earlier this summer, Governor Christie put the debate at the forefront of New Jersey politics by submitting a bill that would dissolve COAH and transfer its responsibilities to the Department of Community Affairs.

Governor Christie said the move was necessary in order to cut out wasteful spending and help the state's government run more efficiently. New Jersey is one of many states facing a severe budget shortage, forcing it to make cuts to nearly every public sector - including affordable housing. Affordable housing advocates' opinions are divided on the abolition of COAH. Some believe it means low-income residents will have even fewer housing options, while others feel COAH-generated regulations were unbalanced and sought to enforce requirements that were nearly impossible for communities to meet.

This was at least the second time that COAH faced dissolution in as many years. Shortly after the Housing Opportunity Task Force presented its recommendations, the New Jersey State Senate passed a bill that also called for COAH to be eliminated. Late this summer, the debate was ended when Governor Christie signed legislation officially eliminating the affordable housing council, making New Jersey just the most recent state to take drastic measures aimed at addressing fiscal challenges. Though it is the most recent state, it is likely not the last. Many affordable housing advocates worry that the nation's poor and under-resourced will bear the greatest burden of the current economic crisis, and they point to states like California and New Jersey as examples.

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