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Future of Fair Housing at Stake: Mount Laurel Has Changed the Lives of Over 200,000 New Jerseyans

Posted by Laura Denker on October 31st 2012

On Wednesday, November 14, the New Jersey Supreme Court will consider the request by Governor Christie and wealthy municipalities to allow towns to exclude low- and moderate-income families, seniors, and people with special needs, reversing four decades of court rulings.

Last week, we shared information on the general background of the case. This week, we outline the positive impact the Mount Laurel cases have had in New Jersey, and the perils of allowing greater exclusion in the future.

  • Over the past 30 years, more than 60,000 homes affordable to low- and moderate-income families, seniors, and people with special needs have been built in communities that otherwise would have excluded those homes. More than 200,000 New Jersey residents have greater economic and educational opportunities as a result.

  • According to a study by Rutgers University professor Stuart Meck, this has had a broader impact on the housing market in New Jersey in general, especially on middle class families. An additional 100,000 homes affordable to middle-class people have been built as towns allow for more starter homes than permitted by their previous zoning laws. This meant that, compared to states with similar land use policies, New Jersey had a much less rapid increase in housing prices in the 1990s- not just for lower-income families, but also middle-class families. Meck found that “New Jersey was the only smart growth state to add significantly to its multifamily and rental stocks and to post limited increases in the share of cost-burdened households…Its statewide housing program, the progeny of several state supreme court decisions, clearly propelled the production of affordable housing.”

  • More than 40,000 additional homes are scheduled to be built - all of which would be in jeopardy if the Supreme Court reverses Mount Laurel. Towns would be able to exclude these homes - with negative consequences not only for lower-income families but also for the broader economy.

  • Employers who leave New Jersey repeatedly cite a lack of affordable homes for entry- and mid-level workers as a key reason why they chose to take their business to other states. Reversing four decades of precedent would make the problem much worse. Almost every major New Jersey business group urged Governor Christie to pursue a policy that would foster, rather than hinder, development of a wide range of housing choices for their employees.

The argument on November 14 presents a stark choice between two different futures for New Jersey. One is rooted in four decades of court rulings, statutory law, and local success stories; the other is based on economic discrimination that courts have repeatedly rejected as an unlawful exercise of government power. We will be there to advocate for fair housing laws that work for our state and its people.