Complying With COAH Does Not Immunize Municipalities from Suit Over Affordable Housing

     Following the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the regulations enacted by COAH under the Act, many municipalities believed that they could prevent developers from locating affordable housing in areas not specifically zoned for affordable housing by complying with the FHA and COAH regulations. And that may be true, in part. Municipalities that meet their fair share obligation under the FHA and COAH regulations are immune from builder’s remedy suits. But what about good old fashioned prerogative writ claims? Apparently not.

     In the recent decision of Homes of Hope, Inc. v. Eastampton Township Land Use Planning Board, the appellate court held that affordable housing constitutes an “inherently beneficial use” for the purposes of obtaining a use variance. This is true whether or not the municipality has met its fair share obligation under the FHA and COAH regulations, or not. 

     For practical purposes, if your affordable housing development requires a use variance, you must show that the proposed development satisfies both negative and positive criteria.  The decision in Homes of Hope means that the “positive criteria" requirement for granting a use variance is automatically satisfied, by the very fact that the proposed development is affordable housing. Developers will, of course, still need to satisfy the "negative criteria" requirement, or show that the proposed development would not be detrimental to the municipality in general or to the future residents of the development.