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Demystifying Affordable Housing

Written by Stephen Harris & Caroline Scutt for United Way of Hunterdon County

The township of Mount Laurel will forever be connected to affordable housing. In 1975, the Mount Laurel doctrine was passed by the NJ Supreme Court, calling for municipalities to make available housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Imperfect at best, the doctrine was replaced in 1985 by the Fair Housing Act became law, thus enacting the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). The COAH establishes regulations whereby each municipality must meet certain levels of affordable housing units. Also, imperfect, the COAH agency was dissolved in 2017, and the courts now administer this housing regulation.

Today the number of affordable housing units per municipality is based on estimates of households and wealth, projections of job and population growth and calculations of acreage available for development. Confused yet? You aren’t alone. The results of this calculation are often disputed through the courts, and often dominate land use discussions in many towns.

What are the parameters of affordable housing?

There are several different types of Affordable Housing and income guidelines for each. Many people think Section 8 Housing is the only type of affordable housing. Section 8 housing is available to qualifying households with extremely low or no income. There are less than 500 Section 8 Housing vouchers available in Hunterdon County and the waiting list is 5 years long.

Other types of Affordable Housing range in income qualifications and can be either rented or purchased. For example, a two-bedroom apartment that is covered under Affordable Housing will cost someone with moderate income $1300 per month and in order to qualify the renter must show that only 33% of their income will be spent on rent. A single individual can earn up to $53,286 to qualify for that apartment. This is certainly more than many entry-level teachers, police officers and nursing assistants earn annually.

In fact, many of our struggling neighbors or ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households, which account for 22% of Hunterdon households would earn too much to qualify for affordable housing.

In addition, qualifying for Affordable Housing and finding any available in your community are two different challenges and is a growing crisis in New Jersey and across the country.1

Resources for obtaining affordable housing:

In practical terms, there are extensive waiting lists for both purchasing housing or for low income rentals. However, the following are two agencies that can aid:

Both agencies can make referrals to the appropriate agency to guide you through the process of registering and identifying affordable housing opportunities. In addition, the New Jersey Housing Resource Center has information on housing and rentals (

Overall, this is a dire situation for many people in New Jersey. Even with regulation and laws in place, there isn’t enough housing available. Some towns are under pressure to attain their quota of affordable housing, but progress is slow due to lack of political will, limited space, current land usage and environment concerns for building. This often seems like an unfixable problem but we believe it is in the best interest of every community to work toward having a mixed housing stock that welcomes a diverse socioeconomic population. 

Contact your state and federal legislature representatives and local municipal government to keep informed of the current state of affordable housing in your community.


Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard for New Jersey -2017