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Supreme Court to hold gap period oral argument Wednesday

Posted by Laura Denker on November 28th 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are writing to inform you that the New Jersey Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument in the litigation over fair housing obligations from 1999-2015 for Wednesday, November 30, at 10 a.m. in the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton.

This proceeding represents an important next step in ensuring that tens of thousands of families finally get the opportunity of moving into homes they can afford in safe neighborhoods with access to good schools and jobs.

This promise, embedded in our state Constitution, was ignored by some towns during the 16-year gap period, beginning in 1999, when bureaucratic gridlock at the Council on Affordable Housing kept New Jersey’s fair housing laws from being enforced.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. While many towns followed the law during this period - allowing thousands of homes to be built for working families, seniors and those with disabilities - many others pursued a strategy of delay and obstruction that worsened New Jersey’s affordable housing crisis and reinforced longstanding patterns of racial and economic segregation.

While some towns are raising false alarms about the ruinous consequences of being forced to comply with New Jersey’s housing laws, a growing statewide consensus is emerging that municipalities can and should meet their fair housing obligations. Currently, more than 80 towns across New Jersey have reached agreements with fair housing advocates and developers to satisfy obligations of more than 30,000 units of housing.

Settlements are being reached across the state - from large suburbs like Woodbridge, Toms River and Bridgewater to small towns like Metuchen, Point Pleasant and Chatham.

These settlements involve compromises from municipalities, housing advocates and developers and will lead to the speedy construction of real homes for real families - with a particular focus on homes for very low-income families, those with disabilities and renters. Discussions are ongoing with dozens of additional towns.

Yet a small group of recalcitrant towns is pursuing a fundamental attack on New Jersey’s fair housing laws. Up to 60 percent of towns’ obligations would disappear if they are successful - meaning that tens of thousands of New Jersey families would lose the ability to move into safe and affordable homes in communities with access to good schools and safe neighborhoods.

Eliminating all housing needs from 1999-2015 would play into the hands of towns that dragged their feet and practiced exclusion by allowing towns a free pass for a 16-year period. This would allow many towns to drastically reduce the amount of housing they produce and lock in New Jersey’s segregated housing landscape for the next generation. It would also send the wrong message to towns that did a good job by treating them the same as exclusionary towns.

Leading civil rights advocates, faith leaders and non-profit and for-profit housing developers have joined with us to fight these extreme arguments.

A coalition of advocates for people with disabilities, led by the Disability Rights Network of New Jersey, has filed briefs with the court highlighting a critical shortage of supportive housing opportunities that would be worsened if these towns have their way.

And the New Jersey NAACP and Latino Action Network have filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court pointing out the critical role the Mount Laurel doctrine plays in building integrated neighborhoods and ensuring increased opportunities for our state’s Latino and African American communities.

As we prepare to make our case in court this week, we need your help to continue building a more inclusive state. Please consider supporting our work so we have the resources we need to continue fighting on behalf of New Jersey families.

And if you are able, please attend oral argument at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton.

Sincerely,

Kevin Walsh, Executive Director, Fair Share Housing Center