Fair Share Housing Center


Mercer County court upholds fair housing obligations in major win for working families

Posted by Anthony Campisi on March 9th 2018

Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson on Thursday delivered an important victory for tens of thousands of New Jersey families by recognizing the extent of our state’s housing affordability crisis and affirming that towns must meet fair housing needs totaling more than 150,000 units.

In an extensive 217 page ruling, Judge Jacobson also rejected many of the arguments a group of towns was using to artificially reduce their housing obligations.

The court’s ruling follows a series of unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decisions beginning in 2015 that jumpstarted our state’s fair housing process by breaking through a 16-year bureaucratic logjam in Trenton that was preventing proper enforcement of these laws. The justices turned over enforcement of our fair housing laws, known as the Mount Laurel doctrine, over to the trial courts.

“Judge Jacobson’s decision recognizes the very substantial need for homes for working families and people with disabilities in New Jersey,” said Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center. “This ruling sends a strong message to any town still seeking to exclude working families that they won’t succeed. While we are still examining the impact of this decision and disagree with some of the ruling, this decision is the latest development in a process that is laying the groundwork for tens of thousands of new homes to address New Jersey’s housing affordability crisis.”

Judge Jacobson’s ruling applies directly to two Mercer County towns, Princeton and West Windsor, that do not have fair housing settlements in place. The decision may impact more than 100 municipalities that have not settled and where methodology trials like the one that lead to today’s decision may still be held. More than 190 municipalities have already reached settlements that will expand opportunities for families to live in safe neighborhoods, close to good schools and jobs.

Towns that have already reached settlements - including Hamilton, Ewing, Hopewell, Mount Laurel, Woodbridge, Edison, Metuchen, and Bridgewater - have pledged to pursue the redevelopment of vacant strip malls, office parks and industrial sites into vibrant new communities and revitalize the state’s many historic downtowns by increasing access to transit. They have also pledged to work with local non-profits seeking to build new homes that will allow people with disabilities to receive the support they need to live near their friends and family.

“This ruling is a victory for lower-income and minority families across New Jersey,” said Walsh. “Judge Jacobson’s decision will give opportunities for thousands of lower-income and minority families to move into safe neighborhoods, send their children to good schools, and work at jobs where they live instead of traveling hours commuting each day. The exclusionary policies that will fall as a result of this ruling harm our whole state, especially African American and Latino communities.”

In her decision, Judge Jacobson rejected many of the most extreme claims made in a report by Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions Inc., which was hired by a group of towns to artificially reduce towns’ obligations.

Towns relying on the Econsult study argued that the state’s fair housing need should be less than 80,000 homes. They relied on demonstrably false assumptions and legal trickery in trying to make tens of thousands of working families, seniors and those with disabilities disappear - while pushing for policies that would cement racial segregation.

“Shovels are already in the ground to build more homes for New Jersey families,” Walsh said. “Today’s decision demonstrates that towns which continue to resist the New Jersey Constitution’s fair housing requirements will not be rewarded for further obstruction and delay. We expect there will be more settlements but are prepared to go to trial again to ensure that every town in New Jersey is following the Constitution and putting plans in place that finally provide the homes that New Jersey families have been waiting for.”

Fair Share has not yet made a decision regarding whether it will appeal aspects of Judge Jacobson’s decision that it contends are not correct.

You can read a copy of Judge Jacobson’s decision by clicking here.