A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cannon Advocates Return to Regional Contribution Agreements

According to The Independent, Aberdeen Councilman Gregory Cannon supports a return to Regional Contribution Agreements (RCA) as part of an overall plan to dismantle the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). RCAs “will allow municipalities to make interlocal agreements. We can band together and say, ‘I have some empty property here’ and it would give us more flexibility.”

On first reading, it sounds like RCAs are supposed to work like cap and trade, which is an economic model that helps distribute carbon emission credits among energy companies. Some corporations are willing to pay to pollute rather than invest in green energy, so a market has developed to trade carbon emission credits between those who invest and those who would rather continue to pollute.

Perhaps such an economic model could be fashioned to distribute affordable housing fairly, but RCAs aren't a workable model to return to. There is a reason why the courts found RCAs repugnant. Under the old rules, most wealthy communities would pay any price to avoid "polluting" their neighborhood with low income residents. Their "Not in my backyard (NIMBY)" approach to affordable housing caused an untenable concentration of low income residents in urban areas like Newark and Paterson. This prompted civil rights groups to organize to eliminate RCAs in the first place. We don't want to go backwards, do we?

According to an NJ Voices opinion piece by John D Atlas written on the occasion of Governor Corzine's changes to the state's Fair Housing Act of 1985, RCAs “allowed wealthy municipalities to pay poor municipalities to accept their affordable housing obligation. This law helped perpetuate segregation and increased the concentration of poverty in our inner-cities.”

What was the problem exactly? According to Paterson Online, "This is the way it worked: A cash strapped city like Paterson would receive money from lets say Wayne to build low income housing for them; then Paterson would also take money from various other municipalities creating a pool of folks of low resources. This would and has increased the concentration of poverty in the city of Paterson and other urban cities in New Jersey. Concentrating poverty in one area has never worked - which is the reason why housing projects are being knocked down all over the country."

I'll be the first to agree that COAH didn't work. And I agree that establishing some sort of economic model for New Jersey municipalities to trade low income housing credits might actually be workable if it was well thought out. In my opinion, any such trading system should include economic disincentives that make it more and more costly for wealthy municipalities to unburden themselves of the last vestiges of their obligation towards low and moderate income persons and less and less profitable for poor municipalities to accept unhealthy concentrations of low and moderate income housing in their communities.


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