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Civil rights advocates call on court to enforce fair housing laws in Mercer County fair housing case

Posted by Laura Denker on January 10th 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As a key fair housing trial gets underway today, a coalition of leading civil rights advocates, faith and community leaders have joined with us to call on the court to enforce New Jersey’s civil rights laws to ensure that thousands of homes are constructed to meet the needs of working families, seniors and people with disabilities.

The trial, which is being heard before Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson, will determine housing obligations for Mercer County for a 26-year period beginning in 1999.

The trial is particularly important because it is expected to be the first countywide fair housing trial that does not end in a settlement. In addition, several Mercer County towns have among the highest fair housing obligations in the state.

While Ewing and Hamilton have reached settlements with advocates and developers, several Mercer County towns - including Hopewell and West Windsor - have continued pursuing strategies of delay and obstruction designed to lock in longstanding patterns of racial and economic segregation.

“I am very concerned that some suburban municipalities within Mercer County have not lived up to their obligation to supply fair housing options within the borders,” said the Rev. Dr. Darrell LaRue Armstrong, longtime pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church of Trenton, Interim President of the Trenton Ecumenical Area Ministry (T.E.A.M.) and a leading civil rights and family advocate.

“Everyone knows that where one lives residentially determines their access to good schools and quality education, which in turn determines future access to jobs and employment. And sadly, where one lives not only determines quality of life, but it also determines the length of one’s life.

“If we allow some of these suburban municipalities to not build their ‘fair share’ of homes low-income and working families can afford, then we are allowing them to turn their backs on decades of successful integrationist housing policies, which tend to benefit families of color, especially black and brown families and their children.

“Concerned clergywomen and clergymen of Mercer County call on the courts to reject these extremist and racist policies that are out of step with New Jersey’s values and our Constitution.”

These towns are out of step with the approximately 90 municipalities across New Jersey which have reached agreements to satisfy obligations of more than 32,000 homes since the New Jersey Supreme Court turned enforcement of the state’s fair housing laws over to the trial courts in 2015.

These settlements are already leading to the construction of new homes across New Jersey, many of them by non-profit organizations with deep community ties. In addition, they are leading to the revitalization of New Jersey’s historic downtowns, as well as the redevelopment of vacant office parks, strip malls and industrial sites into vibrant new communities.

This trial will also provide an important opportunity for fair housing advocates to continue to discredit a deeply flawed housing methodology that some towns are relying upon to justify their exclusionary policies. This methodology, developed by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions, argues that beachfront homes worth more than half a million dollars should be classified as affordable.

This deeply flawed methodology has been entirely rejected in Middlesex County. This trial gives us the further opportunity to subject this study to intense cross-examination. We expect these gimmicks to be ultimately rejected by the courts so that we can build on our successful work across the state to expand opportunities for New Jersey families in thriving neighborhood and confront our state’s housing affordability crisis.

The trial is expected to last at least two months, and we will keep you updated as the situation develops.

Sincerely,

Kevin Walsh,
Executive Director, Fair Share Housing Center