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12 NJ Catholic Bishops:  Legislation leaves “municipalities with unchecked power”

Posted by Kevin Walsh on June 15th 2010

From the Catholic Star Herald …

N.J. Bishops: Fair housing policies a matter of justice Wednesday, 09 June 2010

The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey on June 3 issued a joint statement on affordable housing urging Legislators to “recognize the importance of affordable housing to our state and to maintain housing policies that are fair and just for all. Lower-income families are especially in need of affordable housing, and their needs should be given special attention.”

Throughout the state, there is considerable discussion about reforms to the Fair Housing Act. In discussing changes to that law, well-intended legislators and policymakers have proposed everything from modest reforms to shutting down and not replacing the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). While the Catholic Bishops support efforts to improve the New Jersey’s housing laws, in the joint statement the Bishops said “these proposed changes have the potential to leave municipalities with unchecked power to exclude all but wealthy residents from within municipal borders.”

“Prior to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel decision in 1975, towns did not create adequate affordable housing opportunities for families, and, in fact, intentionally zoned low-income families out,” said Marlene Lao-Collins, Director of Social Concerns for the New Jersey Catholic Conference. We should not return to the zoning practices that existed prior to the Mount Laurel decision. Poor residents need to have a “realistic opportunity” to live in an affordable home, and towns must take the needs of the working poor into consideration.

New Jersey’s housing laws or policies should ensure the protection of everyone – the wealthy and the poor. They should not create economic and racial divisions in our communities. Low-income families should have the opportunity to live in areas where they have access to job opportunities and quality education for their children. According to Lao-Collins, “the Catholic Bishops believe any change in housing statutes should provide a structure for meaningful state oversight, including a numerical obligation of affordable housing within municipalities. We should close loop holes that allow municipalities avoid providing their fair share of affordable housing.”

To see the full statement of the Catholic Bishops on Affordable Housing see below or visit the New Jersey Catholic Conference website at www.njcathconf.com.

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New Jersey Catholic Conference

149 North Warren Street

Trenton, New Jersey 08608

609-989-1120

Representing the Archdiocese of Newark, Diocese of Camden,

Diocese of Metuchen, Diocese of Paterson, Diocese of Trenton,

Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese

A Letter from the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey on Affordable Housing

Dear Senators and Members of the General Assembly:

We, the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey, urge the Members of the New Jersey Legislature to maintain New Jersey’s commitment to affordable housing. As you know, New Jersey has one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. New Jersey also is one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the nation. This segregation has divided our state, denied lower-income families access to educational and employment opportunities, and resulted in islands of wealth and enclaves of poverty throughout much of the state.

With concern for the dignity of every human person, we recognize the fundamental importance of fair housing policies as a matter of justice. For this reason, we have supported efforts to combat discrimination in housing against racial and ethnic minorities, people with special needs, and families with children.

We believe that the exclusion of the poor and lower-income households through a local government’s zoning policies is no less pernicious than more blatant discrimination that offends our consciences and that our laws prohibit.

Throughout the state, there is considerable discussion about reforms to the Fair Housing Act. In discussing changes to that law, well intended policymakers have proposed everything from modest reforms to shutting down and not replacing the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).

We think that some of these proposed changes have the potential to leave municipalities with unchecked power to exclude all but wealthy residents from within municipal borders.

We support efforts to improve New Jersey’s housing laws, but we oppose efforts to eliminate COAH without simultaneously providing an effective replacement for that agency. We are convinced that state oversight is necessary to ensure that municipalities do not pursue exclusionary zoning policies that could perpetuate the divisions in our state.

Providing numerical obligations to municipalities, rather than permitting municipalities alone to choose how much affordable housing they will build, would provide a necessary check on local zoning powers and would ensure that regional goals for affordable housing have a chance to be achieved.

Finally, we oppose the return of regional contribution agreements. Wealthier municipalities should not be permitted to pay poor municipalities to grow poorer. Rather, all municipalities should bear their fair share of affordable housing.

We urge the Legislature to recognize the importance of affordable housing to our state and to maintain housing policies that are fair and just for all. Lower-income families are especially in need of affordable housing and their needs should be given special attention.

Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop, Archdiocese of Newark

Most Reverend John M. Smith, Bishop, Diocese of Trenton

Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop, Diocese of Paterson

Most Reverend Joseph A. Galante, Bishop, Diocese of Camden

Most Reverend Paul G. Bootkoski, Bishop, Diocese of Metuchen

Most Reverend William Skurla, Bishop, Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic

Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, SDV, Auxiliary Bishop Essex County

Most Reverend John W. Flesey, Auxiliary Bishop Bergen County

Most Reverend Thomas A. Donato, Auxiliary Bishop Hudson County

Most Reverend Manuel A. Cruz, Auxiliary Bishop Union County

Most Reverend David Arias, Retired, Auxiliary Bishop of Newark

Most Reverend Charles J. McDonnell, Retired, Auxiliary Bishop of Newark