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FSHC calls on Supreme Court to reject towns’ attempts to exclude thousands of families

Posted by Laura Denker on December 1st 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Yesterday, a coalition of leading civil rights advocates, faith and community leaders joined with us in rejecting a series of extremist arguments advanced before the New Jersey Supreme Court by towns intent on evading their fair housing obligations.

We joined together to call on the court to uphold decades of precedent to ensure that towns that have lagged in building homes must meet the needs of tens of thousands of working families, seniors and those with disabilities that accumulated during a 16-year gap period beginning in 1999.

Joining with more than 15 additional civil rights, disability rights and housing advocacy groups, we argued that a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division deviated from the course New Jersey had set for decades in determining how the state’s housing need should be measured.

This raised the problem of continued delays for thousands of families who have waited years for homes in safe communities with access to good schools and employment opportunities. It also sent the message that towns would be rewarded for delaying, an unfair result for the many communities that have complied with the law.

New Jersey law is clear. Towns must meet their constitutional fair housing obligations during the gap period. These holdout municipalities want to rewrite decades of law so they can continue excluding families.

In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s hearing, a consensus has begun to emerge among many towns that they can and should meet these obligations. More than 80 towns - including Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Woodbridge, Toms River, Edison, and Bridgewater - have reached agreements with advocates and developers and/or received court approval on obligations exceeding 30,000 homes.

These agreements are more than just words on paper - they will lead to the construction of real homes for real New Jersey families and foster the redevelopment of vacant strip malls, office parks and industrial sites into vibrant new communities. The towns who were fighting in court today are outside the mainstream. They want to be rewarded for obstruction and delay.

At a news conference, civil rights leaders and advocates for people with disabilities also highlighted the importance of this case in combating longstanding patterns of racial segregation plaguing New Jersey.

“At its heart, this case is about tackling the systemic racism that prevents families of color from taking advantage of opportunities like safe neighborhoods and high-performing schools,” said Richard T. Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, which filed a friend of the court brief in this case. “A small group of towns has always resisted progress. We have fought them for decades and will continue to fight.”

“For too long, minority communities in New Jersey have been shut out of our state’s many thriving suburban communities,” added Christian Estevez, President of the Latino Action Network, which is also participating in this case. “This case is about a group of towns that want to continue these exclusionary practices. They are willfully blind to the systemic racism which holds too many New Jerseyans back.”

Advocates for New Jersey residents with disabilities also said that these towns are advancing arguments that would worsen acute shortages for supportive housing opportunities throughout the state.

“Thousands of low-income individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical impairments and other special needs live in various stages of housing crisis. Many are living at home with aging parents, in substandard housing or are homeless,” said Gail Levinson, Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey, one of 14 advocacy groups for people with disabilities that is participating in the case. “If towns and cities do not do their fair share by creating housing for those in their midst, we will continue to see rises in emergency room use, prison stays, dependency on shelters and institutions - often because people are lacking homes.”

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the case in the coming months.

Thank you again for your continued support in ensuring that every municipality meets its constitutional obligations.

Sincerely,

Kevin Walsh, Executive Director, Fair Share Housing Center