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Township Committee of Township of Edgewater Park v. Edgewater Park Housing Authority

Decided: April 28, 1982.


Haines, A.j.s.c.


[187 NJSuper Page 580] The Township Committee of the Township of Edgewater Park created defendant Housing Authority by ordinance on February 18, 1981. The Authority's first meeting was held on March 25, 1981, when it retained an architectural firm. On October 7, 1981, in connection with the advancement of a housing project, it applied to the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders for a community development block grant in the amount of $100,000. The grant was awarded by the county and accepted by the Authority on December 3, 1981, at which time it also retained a firm of attorneys. On December 29, 1981 the Authority received three deeds purporting to convey title to real properties in Edgewater Park, two from the township committee and one from individuals. The conveyances were made without consideration.

Edgewater Park's governing body, having experienced a change in membership, now claims that the Authority's housing project has not received required municipal approval; that there has been a failure to comply with planning and zoning requirements; that the contracts entered into with architects and attorneys do not comply with statutory requirements and that the conveyances of land to the Authority are invalid. This suit was commenced to restrain the Authority from carrying out any of its undertakings, to set aside its contract and to void its deeds of conveyance. At the same time, the township committee introduced and passed on first reading, an ordinance to dissolve the Authority, an action challenged by the latter. The issues raised in this proceeding, including the central question of the power of the township committee to dissolve the Authority, involve no prohibitive factual disputes and are decided here in response to the order to show cause obtained by plaintiff.

The Housing Authority was created pursuant to the Local Housing Authorities Law, N.J.S.A. 55:14A-1 to 26, adopted in 1938. In 1949 housing authorities were empowered to undertake redevelopment projects, N.J.S.A. 55:14A-31 to 48, which powers were supplemented in 1956 by N.J.S.A. 55:14A-49 to 58. The 1938, 1949 and 1956 statutes are treated as constituting a single act, the Local Housing Authorities Law, by the New Jersey Statutes Annotated.

N.J.S.A. 55:14A-56 (part of the 1956 supplement) provides:

The powers conferred in this act shall not be exercised by any authority until the governing body of the municipality, by resolution, has authorized the authority to exercise said powers. Nothing in this act shall prohibit a municipality, if it so determines, from exercising the powers conferred herein, either directly or by designating another public body to exercise the powers conferred by this act.

The municipality looks upon § 56 as an amendment to, and part of, the Local Housing Authorities Law, modifying all of its provisions. If this position is correct, the mere creation of an authority would confer no powers: a municipal delegation of power would be required before any authority could act. This is not the way in which housing authorities have been regarded.

Our courts have considered them to be independent entities, receiving their powers directly from the Legislature under the statute. Thus, in Tumulty v. Jersey City, 57 N.J. Super. 503 (App.Div.1959), the court said:

The Local Housing Authorities Law clearly indicates that a local housing authority is not a municipal function, but is a separate independent entity which is "a body corporate and politic" created by the governing body of the municipality or county . . . A local housing authority is not a subordinate municipal agency . . . To the contrary, the Legislature did not want the authority dominated by the governing body. It was to remain a separate corporate entity. [at 511]

In Monte v. Milat, 17 N.J. Super. 260, 265 (Law Div.1952), Judge (later Justice) Proctor said:

See, also English v. Newark Housing Auth., 138 N.J. Super. 425, 430 (App.Div.1976); Paterson v. Paterson Housing Auth., 96 N.J. Super. 394, 404 (Law Div.1967); O'Keefe v. Dunn, 89 N.J. Super. 383, 396 (Law Div.1976). It is of some significance that all but one of these decisions was rendered after the 1956 act (containing § 56) was adopted.

The difficulty with the interpretation and application of § 56 stems from its arrangement in New Jersey Statutes Annotated. This compilation treats the 1949 and 1956 laws (including § 56) as amendments to the Local Housing Authorities Law enacted in 1938. This is not correct. The 1949 legislation dealt with the redevelopment of blighted areas. It conferred redevelopment powers upon housing authorities, but did not, by title or otherwise, indicate that it constituted an amendment to the Local Housing Authorities Law. Nor was the 1956 legislation a part of the Local Housing Authorities Law. On the contrary, its title expressly states ...

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