A Perspective from the Poor

The controversy and court hearings surrounding the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) betray the low-income individuals and families of New Jersey.

Since the establishment of the Mount Laurel precedent (both I and II) and the declaration of the Fair Housing Act, New Jersey municipalities have fought the standard tooth and nail. Despite government’s best efforts to make COAH a bipartisan, inclusive council, their attempt has subsequently succumb to municipal red-tape and a complete failure of COAH to uphold the third round decision.

For many, this inefficiency merely sustains their suburban comfort. Individuals from similar backgrounds, beliefs and incomes sharing in their uniformity were relieved by the inability of COAH to enforce affordable housing. COAH loopholes (such as the gross-share housing development) have disgraced the precedent set by the Mount Laurel decision.

It is evident to low-income individuals and families that the only thing that Council on Affordable Housing has enforced is that middle and upper income communities remain exclusionary to the poor. The cyclical reevaluation of the Mount Laurel Doctrine and attempted dissolution of COAH has proven that the only thing constructed by these fair practice initiatives is a perpetuation of barriers to equal opportunity for the poor.

On behalf of the low-income community, I would like to clarify two things about the Mount Laurel decision for the municipalities that remain skeptical towards the Fair Housing Act initiative. First, the Mount Laurel decision is not a means to wealth redistribution. Constructing an apartment complex in a “middle-class” municipality does not put more entitlements in the pockets of low-income family. Providing affordable housing in a municipality provides low-income families with a safe environment and access to improved public education for their children.

Second, affordable housing does not bring violence, crime, drugs (insert your negative stereotype here) to the municipality. In fact, middle class neighborhoods promote the opposite: positive community environments. Affordable housing in each and every municipality promotes bridging class differences and a positive community environment. Individuals live in an affordable housing complex seek to maintain the appearance, social-dynamic and positive attributes of their community – not degrade and deconstruct their community. For example, the township of Princeton (one of the most affluent in the state) has many affordable housing units occupied by low income families. Rather than quarantining the affordable housing units, the homes were constructed inclusively, and to the surprise of the skeptics, have not increased Princeton’s crime since their establishment. In fact, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School released a study in 2012 confirming that the opposition’s fears of increased crime were “unfounded.”

The red tape and continued controversy between municipalities, COAH and the standards presented by the Fair Housing Act has pummeled the foundation laid by the Mount Laurel doctrine. If sharing waste collection days or your children’s classroom with those from a different socioeconomic status is considered “redistribution of wealth” or the propagation of crime, respectively, then we should reevaluate our democratic principles.

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