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COURT HEARING ON HOUSING ISSUE THAT WILL AFFECT TENS OF THOUSANDS OF NJ FAMILIES

Posted by Laura Denker on June 7th 2016

MOUNT HOLLY – A coalition of leading civil rights advocates, faith and community leaders rejected a series of extremist arguments advanced during a court hearing Monday by towns intent on evading their fair housing obligations.

In a crucial hearing before the Appellate Division to determine the ability of tens of thousands of New Jersey working families, seniors and those with disabilities to move into permanent homes in thriving communities, these towns argued that they should not be responsible for meeting the needs of New Jersey families during a 15-year period beginning in 1999.

“The outcome of this case will have real-life ramifications for tens of thousands of families,” said Richard T. Smith, President of the NAACP of New Jersey. “These towns want to tear apart the foundation of our fair housing laws so they can continue excluding low-income families – especially African-Americans and Latinos.”

“We need to name exclusion for what it is,” said Christian Estevez, President of the Latino Action Network. “The mayors told the court today that they should be able to continue to ignore the needs of tens of thousands of New Jersey families. Their arguments reinforce the systemic racism which continued to exclude black and Latino families from safe neighborhoods with access to good schools and employment opportunities.”

Three lower court judges – in Ocean, Mercer and Middlesex counties – have already rejected the towns’ arguments, saying they violate the state’s Fair Housing Act and the New Jersey Constitution. If these towns are successful in their appeal, up to 60 percent of the state’s fair housing need could be made to artificially disappear.

“No court or agency has ever interpreted New Jersey’s housing laws like this before,” said Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center, which presented oral argument before the court. “These towns are arguing that the Appellate Division should disregard its own precedent, which holds that need for fair housing can’t just disappear under New Jersey law.”

This hearing comes as towns across New Jersey are submitting fair housing plans for judicial approval to demonstrate how they plan on meeting the state’s pressing need for affordable housing opportunities for working families, seniors and those with disabilities. The process began in 2015, after the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling designed to break through a 15-year roadblock preventing the proper enforcement of the state’s housing laws.

While housing advocates argue the state has an unmet housing need of more than 200,000 units, towns are seeking to cut that number in half by arguing that they should not be responsible for meeting any need that accumulated during a 15-year period when the state’s housing laws were in flux.

“These towns must finally confront the moral crisis facing New Jersey,” said the Rev. Darrell Armstrong, Pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton. “Where you live has everything to do with your overall quality of life — including your educational prospects, your likelihood of incarceration, your employability, your access to health care and to healthy food. These towns have tried to deny these opportunities to poor families for too long, and it’s time to hold them accountable.”