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Future of Fair Housing at Stake: People with Special Needs Face Housing Discrimination

Posted by Laura Denker on November 13th 2012

Tomorrow, 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.

We’ve previously shared information on the general background of the case, the impact that the Mount Laurel cases have had in New Jersey, the persistence of exclusionary zoning in our state, and the link between Mount Laurel and racial and economic segregation.

When people think about housing discrimination, they tend to think about discrimination based on race and ethnicity. And there’s good reason for that, especially in New Jersey where high levels of discrimination and segregation persist.

But, as a brief filed in the Supreme Court by a broad alliance of New Jersey’s special needs community describes, claims of discrimination against people with special needs over the past decade have become the most common claims of housing discrimination, both in New Jersey and nationally.

That same brief tells some outrageous stories of housing discrimination in New Jersey – neighbors in Ridgewood fighting homes for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and an attempt to block homes for disabled veterans in Carneys Point – both of which ultimately were resolved solely because of the Mount Laurel doctrine and the Fair Housing Act. According to a recent op ed by NewBridge Services, a housing provider for people with special needs, Mount Laurel provides housing opportunities to allow our state’s most vulnerable citizens to move towards independence. In fact, about 8,000 homes for people with special needs have been created because of Mount Laurel.

Those acts of discrimination could become legal, and business as usual, if the Supreme Court reverses four decades of precedent in tomorrow’s case and allows municipalities to say no to people with special needs. Over 3,000 homes currently planned for people with special needs are at risk. The stakes could not be higher.