Tuesday, May 9, 2017



Helping needy N.J. families find homes

After more than 15 years of gridlock in Trenton, help is finally coming to central New Jersey residents who have been struggling with finding and keeping affordable homes.
Families throughout the state are beginning to see the positive effects of living in affordable homes in inclusive neighborhoods in New Jersey.

Pummeled by the effects of the recession and an ongoing wave of foreclosures, working families, seniors and those with disabilities are having a difficult time maintaining a home amid New Jersey’s sky-high property values. Many homes and apartments are too expensive to live in when located in suburban communities. This pricing crisis limits families from accessing good schools and employment opportunities located in these communities.

The fight to address the needs of New Jersey families received amajor boost in January when the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision upholding the state’s fair housing laws. These laws, known as the Mount Laurel doctrine, require that towns do their fair share to preserve and build new homes that are affordable for working families.

The court’s ruling is a great triumph for families with modest incomes and a major blow to generations of exclusionary policies that have caused the prices of housing to explode in New Jersey. These exclusionary policies are the cause of making our state one of the most segregated in the country.
It also gives a big boost to nonprofit housing developers, such as HomeFirst, which have spent years working with local communities and intimately understand local housing needs.

Thanks to strong leadership from the courts and legislative leaders, more than 100 municipalities across the state have reached agreements to satisfy obligations to build or restore more than 32,000 homes. These towns range from large suburbs such as Toms River and Edison to small boroughs like Ho-Ho-Kus and Chatham. Construction has already begun to implement these settlements and get some of New Jersey neediest families into permanent homes, including in Cherry Hill and Woodbridge.
Seven towns in Union County are adopting housing plans totaling more than 2,000 homes. These towns are Berkeley Heights, Clark, Fanwood, New Providence, Roselle Park, Springfield and Summit. The plans focus on revitalizing the county’s historic downtown areas, increasing transit access and promoting the redevelopment of vacant office parks, strip malls and industrial centers into vibrant new communities.
Other municipalities are currently in settlement talks with advocates to get housing plans approved. Princeton, for instance, recently announced that it achieved a settlement in principle with housing advocates that will expand opportunities for New Jersey residents.

We have also received strong support from Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union), who chairs the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee and has championed legislation to strengthen the Mount Laurel doctrine while also beating back numerous attempts by Gov. Chris Christie to weaken our fair-housing framework.

As a local builder of quality affordable homes, we have seen firsthand how this recent progress will translate into real help for New Jersey families.

HomeFirst manages several properties and apartment units that serve as temporary housing for families in transition and permanent supportive housing for families with physical or mental disabilities. We also provide all the support services required to help families become self-sufficient. The final step is to help these families find permanent housing that is affordable and offers the same access to good schools and thriving neighborhoods.

We need to continue building on these successes by supporting the legal process currently underway in courtrooms across New Jersey to assign housing obligations to municipalities and to set out clear plans for getting additional homes built.
That is the only way we will be able to make our Constitution’s goal of fair housing a reality. And the only way we will finally tackle the housing affordability crisis.

Debbie-Ann Anderson is executive director of HomeFirst Interfaith Housing and Family Services Inc., a nonprofit provider and developer of affordable housing based in Plainfield. She wrote this article for The Star-Ledger.

Exclusionary policies are the cause of making our state one of the most segregated in the country.