MOORESTOWN — Gov. Phil Murphy came to a future affordable housing site Monday at Moorestown Mall to praise a new federal law that will allow the state to “supercharge” production of lower-income housing and address project backlogs in the state.
Murphy’s fiscal 2023 budget, unveiled last month, would use $305 million in federal money and $40 million from the state to accomplish those goals through his proposed Affordable Housing Production Fund (AHPF), creating more than 3,300 new affordable housing units within 43 developments statewide.
The effort to create housing specifically for low- and moderate-income residents began more than 50 years ago in a Black community within adjacent Mount Laurel and led to the Mount Laurel Doctrine, a state court decision that outlawed exclusionary zoning and required municipalities to provide their fair share of affordable housing.
“But the fact is that, even a half-century on, this obligation to all of our state’s residents has yet to be completely fulfilled. It’s been a long road, but towns across the state are stepping up and doing their part to meet this obligation,” said Murphy, in a section of Moorestown Mall parking lot that will become affordable apartments.
“However, in many many communities, like here in Moorestown, this effort hasn’t been completely fulfilled because the funds needed to support the creation of new affordable housing units haven’t been available to realize the goals and needs of developers, local officials, or the prospective residents who would benefit most from the creation of new housing,” Murphy added.
He said the funding gap has led to a current backlog of 43 new, approved and 100-percent affordable housing developments in 34 communities across 14 counties.
The 3,300 units would cover 1,700 new homes for working families, more than 1,100 for senior citizens and nearly 550 new homes for those with developmental or physical disabilities, survivors of domestic abuse and others in need.
“Let’s build them,” Murphy declared.
“When everything is put together, we will be able to supercharge the production of sorely needed affordable housing statewide, hopefully reaching 10,000 new affordable homes within the next three years.”
In introducing the governor, Mount Laurel Mayor Nicole Gillespie said it was appropriate that Monday’s press conference was being held on the 54th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act.
“We are seeing tremendous progress in more affordable housing in our community,” said Gillespie, adding that there will be another 75 affordable units built in a separate development very close to the mall, at Harper and East Gate drives.
She also believes the new housing on the mall parking lot will help turn “an aging mall into a vital community center,” and help the township become a more welcoming one.
Mall owner PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) is selling land in the mall’s parking lot for development of 1,065 apartments that will include 213 affordable units.
Moorestown’s planning board in February approved the first part of the three-stage project — a 375-unit apartment complex of seven buildings that would rise between Nixon Drive and Boscov’s with 75 of those units to be designated affordable.
Gillespie said the township anticipates construction will begin this year, possibly as early as summer. The first building could open to tenants in 2023, offering studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units in buildings of four stories.
The proposed apartment buildings and a planned hotel are part of a plan reached in 2020 after mediation between the township, PREIT and Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill-based nonprofit that advocates for low-income residents.
A state judge ordered the mediation after PREIT objected to a township plan to provide affordable housing there.
A proposed zoning overlay that had previously received initial approval from township council would have required the mall’s demolition, according to PREIT.
“Today is a huge day in the journey to get things right in the state,” said Alex Starapoli, Fair Share Housing’s advocacy and communications director . “To date, Fair Share has settled more than 300 cases under the Mount Laurel Doctrine.”
She estimated approximately 50,000 new affordable homes will be built by the end of the decade as a result of the settlements across New Jersey, including the Moorestown Mall housing.
U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a strong advocate for affordable housing said he was glad to see the Murphy Administration using American Rescue Plan money to make a difference in people’s lives.
“These 3,300 new homes will have far reaching effects — creating jobs, helping small businesses and generating upward mobility for working families around the state,” the Democrat said.
Jim Walsh contributed to this story.
Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey life, history and military veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email email@example.com.
Support local journalism with a subscription.