About a year ago, when New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine warned that the state’s budget woes might void his campaign promise to develop 100,000 units of affordable housing within 10 years, Alison Badgett ’01 was less than two weeks into her new job leading a statewide housing advocacy coalition. A colleague jokingly reminded her that she had been hired to get the governor to fulfill his commitments, not to disavow them.
After loud protests, Corzine reaffirmed his promise, and Democrats in the state Assembly announced their own housing initiative, which became law last summer. Now Badgett must ensure that the politicians follow through, while strengthening Homes for New Jersey, her nonpartisan coalition of builders, corporations, nonprofits, labor unions, and faith-based leaders. She is keeping an eye on two components of the new law, in particular: requirements that the state create a housing plan annually and produce a yearly performance report detailing the creation of affordable housing units.
As the coalition’s first executive director, Badgett is charged with advancing its ambitious agenda: mobilizing government and the private sector to ensure affordable homes for everyone from the homeless poor to the strapped middle class, in a state with sky-high property taxes and housing costs.
She helps her 290 members set priorities — making housing affordability a key issue in the next gubernatorial race is top of the list — and develop policy, negotiating concessions that the disparate groups all can live with. Then she organizes them to promote those policies, drawing on their relationships with legislators.
Her activism would have seemed unlikely when Badgett, who grew up in Princeton and graduated from the Lawrenceville School, arrived at the University as a libertarian Republican intending a career in international business. By graduation, she had changed both her plans and her politics, eventually finding her way to housing advocacy.
Despite the ever-present threat of governmental inertia, Badgett says she’s optimistic that Homes for New Jersey can achieve its goals.“It is doable, and it has to happen,” Badgett says. “It’s both an economic and a humanitarian necessity.”
Deborah Yaffe is a writer in Princeton Junction, N.J.