Lessons from Affordable Housing in New Jersey

Below is a summary of the article “Lessons from Mount Laurel: The Benefits of Affordable Housing for All Concerned” by Douglass Massey.

In 1983, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared that all municipalities in New Jersey had to have their fair share of affordable housing in that region. This declaration prevented zoning so that all the affordable housing wasn’t concentrated in one place. Unfortunately, NIMBY attitudes (“Not In My Back Yard”) prevent home builders and non-profits from building affordable housing that can benefit everyone. Because of NIMBYism, affordable housing is usually concentrated in particular localities creating significant transportation, education and employment problems.

The township and litigants entered into consent in 1985, but the affordable development, known as Ethel Lawrence Homes (ELH), would not open their doors for the next fifteen years. Recently, this affordable housing development was finally opened and it offered an opportunity to evaluate the impact that affordable housing has on residents and neighbors in the surrounding community.

One hundred affordable Units were allocated to low- and moderate-income families on a first-come, first-served basis. Another 40 units were completed and filled in the same fashion in 2004.

From 2009 – 2010, a team evaluated the effects the Ethel Lawrence Homes development had on different neighborhoods. They compared trends in home values, tax burdens, and crime rates in Mount Laurel before and after 2001. They found no differences before and after ELH opened its doors. Having affordable housing in the area did not bring with it all the dangers that people think of when they hear “affordable housing.”  In fact, the team discovered that a third of the community was unaware there was an affordable housing development in their area. Less than fifty percent of the community was able to name the project.

The way that ELH determined who could live in the affordable housing units to was by:

  1. Tenants had to complete a hand written application.
  2. All applications would be assigned a number according to the order they were submitted.
  3. In order, the applications would be evaluated and if they met income and other eligibility criteria determined from the form, they were offered a unit in the development.

Researchers who were evaluating ELH found that those living in the facility had a higher percentage of employment and lower welfare rates. Children in ELH residences also gained access to higher quality schools. Overall, people living at ELH had greater success rates in income and their children attended better schools.

By allowing more affordable housing, New Jersey greatly benefitted its citizens. ELH residents benefitted by getting increased access to jobs and better quality schools. They got a fair shot at working their way into a better life. Its time Virginia took a serious look at NIMBYism and the lack of affordable housing in most of our communities.


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