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Court ruling rejects Englewood Cliffs policies that exclude lower-income residents

Posted by Anthony Campisi on September 3rd 2019

A recent court ruling in Bergen County has rejected longstanding exclusionary policies put in place by Englewood Cliffs and paves the way for the construction of hundreds of new homes affordable to working families, seniors and people with disabilities.

The decision by Bergen County Superior Court Judge Christine A. Farrington strips the borough of protections against lawsuits brought by advocates and developers seeking to force officials to comply with the state’s fair housing laws, known as the Mount Laurel doctrine.

“Judge Farrington’s ruling recognizes that Englewood Cliffs has used the legal process to continue policies designed to exclude working families from one of the wealthiest parts of the state,” said Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “While nearly 300 towns across New Jersey have been able to resolve their fair housing obligations through the existing legal process, this ruling shows municipalities that continue to resist their constitutional obligations what will happen. They can’t use the courts to pursue policies that contribute to segregation and exclusion.”

Englewood Cliffs is one of only three communities that has lost protection from fair housing litigation since the New Jersey Supreme Court placed the courts in charge of enforcing the state’s affordable housing laws in a unanimous 2015 decision.

Judge Farrington’s ruling criticized Englewood Cliffs officials for failing to make progress on implementing a fair housing plan after four years of negotiations with housing advocates.

She found that the municipality “had acted in bad faith” and “made a concerted effort to avoid compliance with its obligation” — failing to produce a single affordable unit in more than 40 years.

Instead, the borough approved large-scale developments while failing to require a single home affordable to working families be created, worsening Bergen County’s housing crisis.

And it approved a housing plan for judicial review that improperly excluded existing properties from consideration as affordable housing sites and failed to provide evidence that it could properly fund its plan to meet its 599-unit obligation. Judge Farrington rejected a July resolution approved by the Englewood Cliff’s governing body in July that professed a commitment to affordable housing while decrying the Supreme Court’s process and failing to take any concrete steps toward constructing new homes for working families.

“The result of allowing the Borough to provide affordable housing ‘in a manner of its choosing’ has produced not a single unit of affordable housing,” Judge Farrington wrote. “As a result, the Borough has lost the ability to determine the elements of its affordable housing plan which will be designed by third parties, the Special Master and the court.”

Judge Farrington’s ruling allows a private developer seeking to build affordable housing in Englewood Cliffs to sue the borough to obtain the necessary zoning to move forward with its project.

It also opens the doors to other builders and advocates whose affordable housing plans are rejected by the borough to seek assistance of the courts to move forward with their developments.

A copy of Judge Farrington’s ruling can be found here.