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South Jersey Borough's Attempts To Develop Affordable Housing Have Hit Roadblock After Roadblock

The affordable housing crisis is getting more attention nationwide, enough to actually reduce NIMBYism, at least according to one survey. But in South Jersey, even incremental progress is like pulling teeth.

Borough Hall, the seat of government for the township of Haddonfield in South Jersey

The Borough of Haddonfield in Camden County has only created three affordable housing units since it reached a legal settlement in 2019 with nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center under threat of state legal action, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

More than 1,100 applications had been submitted for the three units by the time the borough closed the application form on Jan. 31.

The 2019 settlement dictates that the 12,000-person borough build 83 affordable units by 2025. The three that have been delivered are part of an eight-unit initiative to build on scattered sites. That plan was devised after a 28-unit proposal for a vacant site behind Haddonfield's borough hall was cut to 20 units due to neighbors' concerns about density and traffic, the Inquirer reports.

The 20-unit proposal, Snowden Commons, will be led by nonprofit developer Community Investment Strategies, but it has been delayed while the state's Historic Preservation Office reviews the plan, the Inquirer reports. The review, triggered because the site sits within Haddonfield's historic district, is one step from final approval, and CIS is ready to break ground when given the green light.

A further 10 affordable units have been planned for years as part of a 90-townhome development proposed by Brian O'Neill, head of MLP Ventures and founder of Recovery Centers for America, a chain of inpatient addiction treatment facilities. On the former site of a historic special education facility known as the Bancroft School, O'Neill also wanted to build an RCA facility but was met by vehement neighborhood resistance, per the Inquirer.

Despite O'Neill reaching a deal with Haddonfield in 2019 to build the townhouses, he filed a lawsuit against the borough claiming that it intended to block the development of the treatment facility and citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Inquirer reports.

As part of the lawsuit, O'Neill is seeking direct approval for either a rehab center or a townhouse development ranging from 90 to 400 units.

Suburban townships all over New Jersey have seen so little multifamily and affordable housing production for so long that the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that all municipalities must make reasonable efforts to meet their residents' affordable housing needs.

Haddonfield's experience has shown that even a local government's efforts to build affordable housing can be slowed by years over local intransigence and legal battles with developers.