Following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s March 1975 decision in Mount Laurel I, Fair Share Housing Center was founded in October 1975 by Peter J. O’Connor and several of the plaintiffs involved in that litigation. Their purpose was to advance and defend the Mount Laurel doctrine. They sought to “end discriminatory or exclusionary housing patterns which have deprived the poor, particularly those presently living in inner cities, of the opportunity to reside in an environment which offers safe, decent, and sanitary housing near employment and educational opportunities.”
The organization’s first leaders included activists from Camden who resisted inequitable redevelopment in the city, the President of the Camden County Congress on Racial Equality, two pastors, and the President of the Southern Burlington County Branch of the NAACP. Since the organization’s founding, Peter J. O’Connor has served as the Executive Director.
During the period from October 1975 to December 1999, the Center, in the person of Peter J. O’Connor, served as counsel for the plaintiffs in the compliance and implementation phases of the Mount Laurel case after the Mount Laurel I and II decisions; counsel for the plaintiffs in Mount Laurel compliance litigation against Cherry Hill Township; and the Center conducted a continuous outreach program to educate and develop support from faith-based organizations and community groups in New Jersey, including annual lectures at law schools in the Delaware Valley to promote public interest law and the Mount Laurel Doctrine.
The Mount Laurel Township compliance litigation has resulted in settlement agreements and amendments in 1985, 1997 and 2006 which have lead to the construction of 404 affordable units in the Township and an additional 209 affordable units in the development pipeline.
The Cherry Hill Township compliance litigation has resulted in a court-approved First Round Fair Share plan in 1993 and an additional agreement in 2001 which have lead to over 1000 affordable housing units being planned and constructed in the Township. The Center continues to monitor the Township’s compliance and is currently in court forcing the Township to provide for close to 1000 additional units.
Kevin D. Walsh, Esquire, joined the Center in 2000 as its first paid staff attorney. Starting in September 2006, Adam M. Gordon, Esquire served two years as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, and continues to serve the Center as a staff attorney. Since 2000, the Center has continued to represent the plaintiffs in the Mount Laurel Township and Cherry Hill Township cases but has expanded its legal advocacy statewide, including but not limited to litigation successfully challenging COAH’s 2004 Third Round regulations and additional pending challenges to COAH 2008 Third Round regulations; successful appeal of fair share issues in the Meadowlands; pending appeal with regard to Mount Laurel compliance by the 88 Highlands municipalities; helping a diverse range of advocates shape an agenda that led to the Legislature passing A-500, enacted July 17, 2008, which eliminated the Regional Contribution Agreement (RCA) loophole in the Mount Laurel Doctrine; several dozen compliance lawsuits and COAH mediation objections to deficient Third Round fair share plans; and advocacy to make transit-oriented development inclusionary.
Fair Share Housing Center has grown to be the public interest voice of the class of low-income and moderate-income households in the law and policy of the Mount Laurel Doctrine.