TRENTON – After signing $750 million in rent and utility assistance into law Wednesday and enacting other eviction protections, Gov. Phil Murphy quietly revealed he’s also vetoing a different COVID-related housing bill that lawmakers had passed unanimously.

The bill Murphy won’t sign is S3955/A5905, which would establish a Rental Assistance Navigation Program in the state Department of Community Affairs. In it, the DCA – or its contractors – would help tenants navigate the process of applying for rental assistance.

“I am concerned that it could cost as much as $300 million to administer,” Murphy said in a signing statement. “The high cost … is primarily driven by the lack of any income limitations on program participation, and a requirement that DCA coordinate applications for all rental programs, including non-state programs, as well as provide mediation, within a very short timeframe.”

Murphy said many of the same functions can be met at a cost of $11 million, “targeting those with the most need for assistance,” that is part of a $37.5 million funding request he submitted last week to the Legislature.

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Murphy said the DCA has already begun working on distributing the new housing aid, including the development of an online tool that will help determine if an applicant meets income thresholds for help. He said the various efforts that will be needed to run the program exceed the 2.5% allowance for administrative costs in the law and that an additional $37.5 million should be appropriated.

That additional spending would require approval from the Legislature’s Joint Budget Oversight Committee.

The signing statement was issued in the mid-afternoon, a few hours after the bill was signed at a ceremony in Union City and the original news release on the new law was issued.

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Murphy said that although he is “unable to sign” S3955, its objectives will be achieved through the bill he did sign.

The Office of Legislative Services said in a June 30 fiscal estimate that the Murphy administration had not responded to the Legislature’s request for a fiscal note.

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