Did your town pay off Fair Share Housing Center’s lawyers to “settle” affordable housing threats?

Before it agrees to end its affordable housing litigation against a town, the Fair Share Housing Center‘s lawyers demand cash payments — ranging up to $100,000. The question arises as to whether these payments are a kind of “extortion” extracted from towns.

Questionable purpose of payments

Taxpayers in these towns are usually unaware they are paying off FSHC’s lawyers. Although these pay-offs are written into the signed agreements (which are public documents), it seems town officials like to keep the payments quiet.

What raises red flags is that the stated purpose for these payments varies across the agreements. It would seem the purpose would be consistent if the payments were legitimate and above board.

The payments

Scroll down to see what your town paid. Don’t see your town? Scroll down lower to submit it for the list.
This is a partial list of payments New Jersey towns made to Fair Share Housing Center to settle the threat of affordable housing litigation. These payments have nothing to do with the actual construction or delivery of affordable housing.

A limited sampling of just 56 towns reveals payments of $854,250 to Fair Share Housing Center, in exchange for FSHC signing the deals. There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey. With your help, we’d like to include them all.

[List updated June 26, 2019. Updated figures in text appear in red.]

1AllendaleBergen$4,000reasonable attorney's fees
2Atlantic HighlandsMonmouth$5,000[none specified]
3BarnegatOcean$5,000attorney fees
4Berkeley HeightsUnion$15,000[no purpose specified]
5Bernards TownshipSomerset$15,000attorneys fees and costs
6BernardsvilleSomerset$3,500attorneys fees
7ChathamMorris$15,000attorneys fees and costs
8Clinton TownshipHunterdon$30,000donation
9ClosterBergen$5,000[none specified]
10Delran TownshipBurlington$25,000attorney's fees
11East RutherfordBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
12EmersonBergen$7,500attorneys fee and costs
13Far HillsSomerset$15,000attorneys fees and costs
14Franklin LakesBergen$25,000[no purpose specified]
15Franklin TownshipSomerset$5,000[none specified]
16GarwoodUnion$4,000[none specified]
17Green BrookSomerset$3,750attorneys fee and costs
19HaddonfieldCamden$10,000attorneys fees and costs
20HaworthBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
21HaworthBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
22High BridgeHunterdon$3,000attorneys fees and costs
23HillsdaleBergen$4,500ongoing legal expenses
24HolmdelMonmouth$15,000[no purpose specified]
25Hopewell TownshipMercer$50,000[none specified]
26Howell TownshipMonmouth$15,000attorneys fees and costs
27LambertvilleHunterdon$5,000attorneys fees and costs
28Lawrence TownshipMercer$25,000[none specified]
29Long Hill TownshipMorris$5,000attorneys fee and costs
30MahwahBergen$20,000[no purpose specified]
31MaplewoodEssex$5,000[none specified]
32MarlboroMonmouth$75,000attorneys fees and costs
33Mine HillMorris$5,000attorneys fees and costs
34MontvaleBergen$25,000payment of fees and costs
35Montville TownshipMorris$45,000attorney fees and costs
36MoorestownBurlington$40,000attorneys fees and costs
37Morris TownshipMorris$15,000attorneys fees and costs
38MorristownMorris$4,000attorney fees and costs
39Mountain LakesMorris$3,000attorney fees and costs
40North CaldwellEssex$7,500[none specified]
41Ocean CityCape May$15,000attorneys fees
42OradellBergen$5,000attorneys fees and costs
43RamseyBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
45Raritan TownshipHunterdon$15,000attorneys fees and costs
46Red BankMonmouth$7,500attorneys fees and costs
47RidgewoodBergen$10,000attorneys fees and costs
48Scoth PlainsUnion$15,000attorneys fees and costs
49TeaneckBergen$5,000attorneys fee and costs
50WaldwickBergen$5,000attorney's fees
51Warren TownshipSomerset$50,000attorneys fee and costs
53West WindsorMercer$100,000attorneys fees and costs
55WestwoodBergen$5,000attorney fees and costs
56Woodcliff LakeBergen$7,500attorneys fees and costs
TOTAL PAYMENTS$854,250Cash into FSHC war chest

The 56 towns above agreed to pay FSHC an aggregate $854,250 to settle. This list is incomplete. There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey. Not all towns have settled with FSHC — but there are many more than listed above, so we don’t yet know how much in total FSHC’s lawyers have pulled down in such payments.

Who decides what the pay-off is — and its purpose?

The purpose of these payments is described in each agreement, but it varies without explanation.

Some towns agreed to reimburse FSHC for its “attorneys fees and costs.” Other towns, like Clinton Township in Hunterdon County, agreed to make a “donation” of taxpayer money to FSHC. Many payments were agreed to by municipal officials without stating any purpose.

Why does one town pay FSHC’s “attorneys fees and costs” of $50,000, while another town makes a “donation” of $30,000 — but pays no attorneys fees at all? Why do some towns pay nothing? Are their officials just better negotiators?

What does FSHC do with all that money? We’re reviewing its tax filings to find out.
Perhaps most puzzling, why do the New Jersey Courts that approve these myriad agreements overlook the varying amounts and disparate purposes of these payments — and the fact that FSHC extracts payments of any kind?

Add your town to the list

If your town has settled with FSHC but is not listed, and you would like it added, you can obtain a copy of the “Fair Share Housing Center settlement agreement” from your municipal clerk. The document is public and cannot be legally withheld from you. You may need to submit an OPRA request to obtain it. Your town’s website may have the OPRA form available online. The settlement agreement must be delivered to you within 7 business days.

Please e-mail a link (preferred) to your town’s settlement agreement to admin@exmayor.com or e-mail a copy of the complete agreement. Or send both.

The pay-off is usually listed after the other main terms of the agreement are recited, usually in a paragraph numbered in the 20s. Here’s one example of what the clause agreeing to pay looks like, in West Windsor’s settlement agreement:

How much did your elected officials quietly pay FSHC’s lawyers to make a deal?

Thanks to all who have submitted settlement agreements for inclusion.

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