The first time I heard the story being told by a homeless mother who was staying in our church as part of Family Promise’s program, I knew I had to become an advocate. Becoming homeless could happen to any one of us!
The loss of a job; illness of the major breadwinner, or an increase in rent due to gentrification can catch families in a downward spiral. For those who find themselves in this devastating situation; “the social safety net is being shredded,” says Renee Koubiadis, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.
One way to prevent homelessness is for every municipality to build its fair share of affordable housing, as stated in the Mount Laurel Doctrine. This is the law that has been upheld by the NJ Supreme Court numerous times.
New Jersey cities like Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth, are benefiting from the demand of young upwardly mobile professionals who want to live near NJ Transit and commute into NYC. They have remade neighborhoods to look like hip Brooklyn, which is a boon to business. However, many of the original residents are priced out of their own neighborhoods. If builders of market-rate housing were held to the Mount Laurel Doctrine, a specified portion of those apartments would be affordable.
Many suburban towns resist building their Fair Share. Residents fear that their property values will go down, crime will increase and their schools ratings will go down. Unfortunately, these residents confuse today’s affordable housing with the regrettable tenements of yore. The well-designed mixed-use dwellings of today are nothing like those of the past. In many cases, they improve the neighborhoods. Integrated schools often perform better, because of the diversity in their student body.
Over a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that each municipality had to submit their 10-year plan to build their share of affordable housing and have it approved by the County Court. Many towns have approached the project with good will and creativity. Some have negotiated good settlements with Fair Share Housing Center and settled out of court. Others, however, have wasted time and taxpayer dollars on expensive lawyers to fight the Supreme Court decision. This is requiring another Supreme Court decision, soon to be made.
I have to ask these towns: “What makes more sense; spending taxpayer dollars on lawyers and ultimately Homeless Shelters; or obeying the law, building your fair share and preventing homelessness?
Lorraine Wearley, Ph.D.
Advocate for Affordable Housing