Gov. Chris Christie

TRENTON, NJ-A state Supreme Court of Appeals panel has figuratively thrown a rule book at the state Council on Affordable Housing – and literally told them to write one. Without further delay. Or else face fines and “civil detention” for board members, including state community affairs commissioner Ronald Constrable.

After five years of inaction by Gov. Chris Christie‘S administration on affordable housing rules – and another blown court-ordered deadline  Feb. 26 – the three-judge panel decried what it called “intransigence.” The state Supreme Court had ordered last summer that new rules be developed for determining the number of affordable housing units municipalities must provide.

Insistently damning the old COAH system because it tied municipal obligations to any type of development that occurs, Christie first tried to simply abolish COAH. A lower court ruled the governor did not have the power to do that.

Nevertheless, the agency simply stopped holding meetings in 2010.

Fair housing adocates have waged legal battle to get the state to restart affordable housing regulation. Last summer, the fight went to the State Supreme Court, which ordered COAH to draw up new affordable housing rules by Feb. 26. Still, the board did not meet.

Now, the appellate judges has ordered COAH to begin meeting this week and to draft new housing guidelines by March 26.

The agency has not complied with a “straightforward mandate,” Judge Jose Fuentes wrote in the order. “COAH failed to offer any plausible explanation for its failure to carry out this court’s order.”

Fuentes made it clear that if there is no compliance this time, board members will face contempt charges that carry fines and potential incarceration.

The COAH board is chaired by Constable. Neither Christie nor Constable has commented on the ruling made last week. The state attorney general’s office asked for a stay of the ruling when it was issued, arguing that the court had acted beyond its constitutional powers

The appellate judges refused, and the state moved immediately to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court, also asking for an extension to draft housing rules until May 1.