UNANIMOUS NJ SUPREME COURT REAFFIRMS FAIR HOUSING LAWS
Posted by Laura Denker on March 10th 2015
Court Provides Remedy for Delays, Requires Municipalities to Comply with Mount Laurel in Trial Courts
In a unanimous decision issued this morning, the New Jersey Supreme Court reaffirmed that no town in New Jersey may exclude working families, low-income seniors, and people with special needs. The Court’s decision responds to the failure of the Christie Administration and the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) to comply with a court order issued in September 2013 requiring the adoption of rules that implemented the Mount Laurel doctrine.
“Too many New Jersey municipalities exclude people who work in the stores and diners of New Jersey,” said attorney Kevin D. Walsh, who argued the case for FSHC. “We now have a way to make sure they are not excluded and to ensure there are fair housing opportunities for people who are forced to live far from their jobs and families and who have been displaced by Superstorm Sandy. The Court properly responded to the failure of the state government to implement the law.”
Today’s unanimous decision allows municipalities that had previously been participating in the fair housing process before COAH to file actions before courts within the next 120 days to seek review of their municipal housing plan in the court process, with participation by interested parties such as civil rights organizations, supportive housing organizations, and non-profit community groups. If those municipalities do not file within that time period, then any party seeking fair housing opportunities in that municipality may file. Because the COAH process is not working, the Court held that “the courts may resume their role as the forum of first instance for evaluating municipal compliance with Mount Laurel obligations.”
The Court directed lower courts to base their review on prior rules and decisions that led to over 65,000 homes being built that lower-income families, seniors, and people with special needs can afford. The Court also recognized the importance of moving forward quickly and avoiding unnecessary delay.
The decision this morning is in response to a motion FSHC filed in October 2014 after the administration and COAH failed to meet the deadline for adopting revised rules. The motion, which is available here , asked the Court to find that because the Christie Administration has failed to follow the Court’s orders, trial courts rather than COAH will be responsible for implementing the Fair Housing Act.
The Christie Administration’s rulemaking process was plagued by wildly inaccurate data such as claiming that much of the land in Monmouth County was actually located in Ocean County, a refusal to release to the public basic information about how the rules were devised followed by a claim that key documents had been “lost”, and manipulating housing need figures based on assuming that New Jersey would never recover from the 2008 recession. As a result of these deep flaws, the COAH Board refused to adopt the rules at an October 20, 2014 meeting.
The New Jersey Fair Housing Act, and the process implemented by the Court today, helps address the need for homes for New Jerseyans earning less than a specific amount, for example $74,000 a year for a family of four in Mercer County. New Jersey the fourth least affordable state in the country for working families according to the national Out of Reach study.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision is available here.