Court Rules Christie Can’t Abolish Housing Agency

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

Gov. Chris Christie exceeded his legal authority when he closed the unpopular Council on Affordable Housing and transferred its key functions to officials who report to him, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, a decision the governor labeled activist and arrogant.

In a 5-2 ruling, the justices said eliminating the agency would take an act of the Legislature, which established the council in 1985 to be independent.

Affordable housing advocates say the ruling ensures that decisions will be made by an independent board that takes input from the public.

“It’s a bad idea for policies involving homes for working families, people with special needs and lower-income seniors to be made behind closed doors,” said Adam Gordon, the Fair Share Housing Center lawyer who argued the case before the court.

For now, the housing council remains intact.

“If the Governor and the Legislature wish to abolish COAH, they must take another path,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a Democratic appointee, wrote in a majority opinion.

The 12-member bipartisan council was created to enforce a series of state Supreme Court rulings that found New Jersey towns have an obligation to provide housing for low- and moderate-income residents.

While progressives hold up those earlier rulings as landmarks to advance fairness to the poor in wealthy suburbs, conservatives see it as social engineering.

“Not surprisingly, this liberal Supreme Court once again ignores that and continues to blindly perpetuate its failed social experiment in housing,” Christie said. “The Chief Justice’s activist opinion arrogantly bolsters another of the failures he and his colleagues have foisted on New Jersey taxpayers.”

“This only steels my determination to continue to fight to bring common sense back to New Jersey’s judiciary,” he said.

Rabner, the target of Christie’s anger, will be up for reappointment next year.