The Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) was created by the Fair Housing Act of 1985 as the State Legislature's response to a series of New Jersey Supreme Court cases known as the Mount Laurel decisions. The Supreme Court established a constitutional obligation for each of the 566 municipalities in the State to establish a realistic opportunity for the provision of fair share low and moderate income housing obligations, generally through land use and zoning powers.  The legislature provided an administrative alternative to this constitutional obligation via the Fair Housing Act.

COAH is an administrative and regulatory organization with 12 members appointed by the Governor on the advice and consent of the Senate. It does not produce, fund or compel municipalities to expend local funds to build affordable housing. Zoning for affordable housing in market rate developments (inclusionary zoning) does not require outside funding, provided a compensatory benefit such as a density increase, is provided to the developer.  Funding for other types of affordable housing is usually provided by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) through its various housing programs or by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) using its bonding capabilities or its federal low income housing tax credit allocations. Municipalities are also permitted to collect development fees at the local level to be used for affordable housing activity.  See COAH's Guide to Affordable Housing Funding Sources for more information.

The COAH Process

New Jersey municipalities enter the COAH process voluntarily. They do so by petitioning COAH for substantive certification of a housing element (required by the Municipal Land Use Law as part of each municipality's master plan) and a fair share plan establishing a realistic opportunity for the provision of housing affordable to low and moderate income households directly related to certificates of occupancy issued for residential and non-residential market rate development.

Petitioning assures continued protection from lawsuits while COAH reviews, sometimes requests revisions and possibly mediates objections from interested parties before COAH grants or denies substantive certification. Certification is granted for a ten-year period and may be withdrawn if a municipality fails to assure the continuing realistic opportunity for its fair share housing obligation.

A portion of the fair share obligation is the rehabilitation of existing units. To provide a realistic opportunity for the construction of new units, municipalities may zone specific sites for residential developments by the private sector. Developers must agree to build a fixed percentage of affordable units---usually 20 percent---of the total constructed on the site, to market to low and moderate income households and to maintain affordability for 30 years.

Other methods for meeting the obligation include municipally sponsored construction using for-profit or nonprofit builders, the purchase of existing units for sale or rent to eligible householders, the creation of accessory apartments within existing structures, and the provision of supportive and special needs housing including group homes for the physically handicapped or developmentally disabled.