Mayor’s Message: affordable housing in the Richwood project

In this week's Mayor's Message, Mayor Lou Manzo clarifies the affordable housing component of the Richwood project after receiving inquiries from residents

In a recent Mullica Hill Sun article that was detailing some upcoming projects, the reporter referenced the affordable housing component of the proposed Richwood project and stated that there would be 625 such “units” included within that project. I’ve had a couple inquiries about that, and I want to set the record straight, since 625 affordable “units” in Richwood is not the requirement.

As a backdrop, let me explain the rules in New Jersey that dictate these numbers, which fall under the state’s Council On Affordable Housing (COAH) jurisdiction. Doing so with great detail in a few hundred words here is impossible, so this is a 30,000-foot view.

First, the motivation of the law is to ensure that communities provide housing options that span the economic spectrum, which by the way, I totally support. Philosophically, a perfectly homogenized community evolves that way, with residents from all walks of life included. This provides an economically diversified workforce to fill all the necessary jobs in a community or region.

Unfortunately, there is negative perception of “affordable housing” with an unwarranted stigma attached to it. The public’s default view is some run-down inner-city housing project that is a hotbed for criminal activities. This extreme example is not the norm. In fact, the affordable housing resident norm often looks like the average recent college grad or a solid middle-class, retired person. Why? Because the income limitation to qualify for affordable housing in our region in 2019 was $50,456. Therefore, affordable housing options in a community, especially like ours, is not a negative. If done right, it’s the opposite.

We have done it right by consistently having a solid plan in place that protects us from litigation that could surrender our control of how our required affordable housing component gets built out. Developers can challenge a COAH plan at times since the town requires a portion of their development to include affordable units. That’s what happened with the Richwood developer and we have recently settled that dispute.

This brings us to the 625 “units” referenced in The Sun’s article. To clarify, there is a distinction between “units” and “credits” in these rules. The 625-number referenced represents the total number of “credits” we are required to have under the COAH rules throughout the entire town by 2025; not just in Richwood. Some units (like apartments or age-restricted units) receive double-credits. In our plan, we achieve the 625 “credit” requirement (we actually receive 627 “credits”) by building 470 “units” based on this crediting system. And nearly half of that 470-unit requirement (216) already exist. Hence, the Richwood project will contain 254 affordable units (184 single-family homes and 70 apartments), within the 1500 total rooftops approved in the plan.

We have structured our town’s masterplan to ensure the best roadmap for the inevitable buildout of our community. This includes green/open space, connective infrastructure of roads, sidewalks and bike paths ensuring the most advantageous traffic patterns. The masterplan also includes the high bar we have set for the materials used and the aesthetic values of the structures. We are very proud of the masterplan we have in place.