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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Urban officials should praise the death of RCAs

Legislation that eliminates the use of Regional Contribution Agreements as a municipal tool in complying with state affordable housing law has been increasingly assaulted by various New Jersey stakeholder groups.

The Regional Contribution Agreement is that affordable housing mechanism that allowed municipal officials to trade off up to 50 percent of their affordable housing obligations to other municipalities for cash, instead of actually building the housing within the borders of their boroughs, towns, or cities.

Rich suburban towns are afraid of what actually building their share of affordable housing might do to their tax base.

But even some urban area officials seem equally afraid, over how the elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements effectively kills a revenue source frequently used to repair existing affordable housing and build new housing.

But in doing so, New Jersey's urban mayors and officials seem to be denying one of the main factors in the complex process that so badly damaged the social fabric of cities like Trenton, Camden, and Newark, which was the flight of middle-class wage earners out to the surrounding suburbs, later followed by good jobs and good businesses.

Public officials like Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer and others should be doing all they can to get those middle-class wage earners, places of employment, and businesses back into Trenton.

But instead many urban mayors used Regional Contribution Agreements as a stop-gap measure to fill shortfalls in affordable housing construction and repair budgets, further damaging the fabric of the city through concentrating more and more poverty there.

Regional Contribution Agreements make no sense for poor urban areas, but they make perfect for suburban mayors, to whom the agreements represent a steal of a deal.

According to affordable housing advocates, a suburban town sending off its affordable housing to a city pays around $35,000 per unit, while the average total cost of building and subsidizing such a unit is nearly four times that, $140,000.

Plus, the people who end up living in those units in New Jersey's urban areas live in places without jobs, far away from existing jobs, and with poor educational opportunities.

The elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements is an important step for New Jersey's cities and poorer municipalities in their quest to rehabilitate their economic and social environments, which have suffered since the advent of suburbia.

Without them, cities will stop piling on disproportionately large numbers of the state's poor, while suburban areas will be forced to provide affordable housing opportunities closer to jobs and closer to opportunity.

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