As many residents in Union County, and across the state, are aware, New Jersey's constitution prevents municipalities from using zoning powers to discriminate against lower income residents, and requires that every community provide a reasonable opportunity for affordable homes to be built. Mount Laurel, as this doctrine is known, has been the law of the land for over 40 years, and has helped improve the quality of life for New Jerseyans who make our economy hum and our neighborhoods strong: teachers, fire fighters, home health aides, bus drivers and security guards who want to live where they work. Legislative leaders like Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22) have helped preserve this important civil and human rights legislation, even as Gov. Chris Christie demanded that elected officials gut the agency responsible for its implementation.
For the last eight years, Gov. Christie and his allies in Trenton have tried to kill the Council on Affordable Housing. Christie vetoed efforts to make legislative changes to the Council, and few have done anything to help foster the improvements they say they want. Instead, they punted to the state Supreme Court, which has established a process for municipalities, housing advocates and non-profit community organizations to address housing needs in each community. Despite the success of this process in over 120 communities who have developed plans to create the homes New Jersey residents and our economy need, Asm. Bramnick and Asw. Holly Schepisi are demanding the Legislature step in and stop this process. Asw. Schepisi's bill, which she literally tried to get heard in the middle of the night during the Christie budget shutdown, would take us backward. Asm. Green and other legislative leaders are standing up by making sure New Jersey follows our laws and creates welcoming communities for all of our neighbors.
In the end this is not a partisan issue. Housing is a basic human need and not everyone can afford housing that is at market and luxury rates. Furthermore, we must provide for our workers - the cashier at McDonalds, the worker in the local day care and the stylist cutting your hair - all need a place to live that is affordable.
Unknown to most is that landlords in this region are redlining these workers from their properties by a trifecta of hoops: requiring that rent be 30 percent of their income, having zero evictions in their lifetime and a credit rating of 650 plus. Many are using outside tenant rating companies to keep out those earning below $50,000. Each week we see working homeless families living in the latest mode of mobile homes, their cars. If landlords won’t rent and municipalities will not provide for our workers, then where will they go?
By the same token, both the state government and federal government have sent a clear message via cuts in homeless and housing programs. Like all problems that we turn our backs on, it will and does come back to bite us. Our own children cannot afford to leave home. Our own grandparents cannot afford to live independently. Homelessness is creeping up the economic ladder. That is why we must back the system we have and ensure that all may have housing.
Linda Flores-Tober is Executive Director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.