WAYNE, NJ - Understanding Wayne's affordable housing obligation goes back to a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court (NJSC) decision from 1975 in the case of Southern Burlington County NAACP vs Township of Mount Laurel. The ruling, now called the Mount Laurel Doctrine, declared that municipalities must use their zoning powers in such a way as to provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.
The Township of Mount Laurel, according to the Plaintiffs in the case, were using their zoning ordinances to only allow single family homes in their residential districts. Townhomes, apartments and mobile homes were not allowed. This forced the poorer residents to move to Camden where there was cheaper housing.
The Town of Mount Laurel was sued, the case went to the NJSC and the decision is now called Mount Laurel I.
It made little difference across the state because of how difficult it was to enforce the law. So, in 1983 the NJSC reaffirmed their decision in a second court case called Mount Laurel II. To help with reinforcement of the doctrine, the court created the Builder’s Remedy, which incentivized housing developers to sue municipalities when denied applications due to zoning ordinances that included affordable housing units. If a court determines that the municipality was not in compliance, it can permit the developer to construct the project and invalidate the local zoning codes.
A flood of lawsuits followed, and the state reacted by creating the Fair Housing Act of 1985, which allowed for a Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). This agency determined the number of affordable housing units each municipality must have.
The agency encouraged municipalities to submit Fair Share Housing Plans with COAH to become ‘certified’ in order to become immune to lawsuits brought on by the Builder’s Remedy. This immunity would last for ten years.
The calculation to determine if a municipality is in compliance with the law has changed several times and will likely to continue to evolve but in 2015 the NJSC determined that COAH had failed and took the responsibility of certifying towns from the legislative branch to the judicial branch. Municipalities then had to prove they were currently, and/or had a plan in place that would show they would be, in compliance with the Mount Laurel Doctrine in a trial court.
For Wayne Township, there are several lawsuits that are currently being litigated by the town regarding their Mount Laurel obligation. Because of this, the Mayor and Council do not meet publicly regarding these nor will they share details.
However, this Wednesday night, February 26 at 7:00pm, Wayne Township will be holding a public information session to advise residents of the status of the Township’s Mount Laurel/Affordable Housing obligations and its plans to meet those obligations. This will be held in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Complex – 475 Valley Road.
TAPinto Wayne will cover this extensively.