Welcome to Mount Laurel, Gov. Christie

We hardly ever publish anything that comes by email, word-for-word. But this, jointly sent by NAACP and Fair Share Housing, is dead-on. The Mount Laurel Doctrine was a victory for low-income people, people with special needs and seniors. And Gov. Christie calls it “stupid.” – REE

Fair Share Housing Center logoThis morning, Gov. Christie will hold a town hall meeting in Mount Laurel Township.  We welcome him to this place where a civil rights lawsuit led to the promise that lower-income families, people with special needs, and seniors on fixed incomes will not be excluded from wealthier suburban towns.  We hope he leaves with an understanding of why his housing policies are so bad for New Jersey families struggling with our state’s high housing prices.

NAACP logoIn May 1970, the mayor of Mount Laurel rejected a proposed housing development for working families who wanted to remain in the township.  Speaking at their church, he said, “If you people” – by which he meant African Americans who had lived there for hundreds of years – “can’t afford to live in our town, then you’ll just have to leave.”  His disregard of the housing needs of Mount Laurel residents was also felt by people living in the region who were denied the opportunity to move to starter homes and apartments that Mount Laurel’s zoning prohibited.  The courts and eventually the Legislature found this to be unfair after the Southern Burlington and Camden County Branches of the NAACP, along with others, sued the municipality.  


Their fight for civil rights has led New Jersey to lead the nation in providing housing for lower-income families, people with special needs, and seniors by simply requiring municipalities to change zoning to ensure more modestly-priced homes are made available.  Housing developed by the private sector under the Mount Laurel doctrine, which by design is always an option, does not require any public subsidies.  Over the past 30 years, more than 60,000 homes for lower-income households have been built in communities that otherwise would have excluded those homes.  More than 50,000 additional homes are proposed in plans adopted by municipalities.  About 8,000 homes for people with special needs have been created because of the Mount Laurel doctrine.  As a result of the availability of affordable homes, compared to states with similar land use policies, New Jersey had a much less rapid increase in housing prices – not just for lower-income families, but also middle-income families.

The location of affordable homes provided under Mount Laurel connect lower-income residents to important opportunities, such as jobs and good schools.  A recent Princeton University study found a housing development in Mount Laurel has massive educational and economic impacts – such as a 25 percent increase in earnings and a 67 percent drop in reliance on public benefits for those given the opportunity to live in affordable homes.

Despite this success, Gov. Christie has referred to the doctrine as “an abomination” and at his 2013 town hall meeting in Mount Laurel, Christie said the Mount Laurel decision was “stupid.”  He has campaigned against housing opportunities for all New Jerseyans, and has promised to get rid of the doctrine.  He has been blocked though at every turn because people have opposed his extreme position on housing, and the rule of law has prevailed in litigation brought by Fair Share Housing Center.

NJ NAACP President Richard Smith said:  “Hope was born for lower-income families in Mount Laurel.  The Mount Laurel decision helps working class families, but the governor’s mantra has been to tear down working class folks who are looking to raise their families in safe neighborhoods with good schools.  We know the Mount Laurel doctrine has helped African American and Latino residents of our state.  It is too important to allow the governor to destroy this civil rights victory.”

“Mount Laurel is the home of the one of the most important civil rights cases in the history of our nation,” said Rev. Dr. Ken Gordon, Jr., the President of Southern Burlington County NAACP, the lead organizational plaintiff in the seminal litigation against Mount Laurel. “The NAACP worked hard so lower-income families who work hard would not be excluded from New Jersey’s wealthier communities. We will continue to stay vigilant to ensure this landmark civil rights victory is not taken away or reversed, especially when there is yet so much civil and human rights work to do in our state.  Our pledge to brave people like Ethel Lawrence, as well as all the low and moderate income families, is that we will not stand idly by and allow any person or any group to rip from their hands those rights that so many fought hard to provide and that make America the home of the free and the land of the brave.  We remain committed to ensuring civil rights and social justice for all Americans and will partner with any likeminded people to realize this reality.”  

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