Coalition Building: Working with Nationwide Advocates to Advance Housing Policy

Coalition Building: Working with Nationwide Advocates to Advance Housing Policy

May 24th, 2023

By Tanushree Bansal 

Earlier this month, Fair Share Housing Center’s Executive Director, Adam Gordon, spoke at a panel hosted by New York University School of Law’s Furman Center about New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Doctrine and the lessons our state has learned from the Mount Laurel process. His remarks that afternoon demonstrated the growing collaboration amongst advocates from different jurisdictions as we work to confront the national housing crisis.

The housing movement is inherently a collaborative one. Every person deserves a place to call home, and often markets for housing are regional and centered around greater metropolitan areas that transcend state borders. For example, the greater New York City area includes people residing in parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. The collective impact of high rents on many communities across the country, combined with each geographic region’s unique housing policies, suggests that there is great learning potential in further collaboration between us. We can all benefit from a collective exchange of information that studies the results, failures, and successes of our various approaches.

This kind of knowledge sharing is increasingly becoming one of FSHC’s organizational priorities. For example, staff at FSHC and officials from the State of New York have had conversations over the past few months regarding the recently passed New York Senate Bill S4006C, which enacts major components of legislation necessary to implement the state’s
housing budget.

The bill proposes a system with some similarities to New Jersey’s, and many differences. The underlying concerns that both states hope to address in their housing policies are the same; Part F of the Bill which discusses housing suggests that New York hopes to confront issues such as local government restrictions that limit housing supply and drive-up housing
prices, and the impact of the housing crisis on marginalized communities. These are issues that New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Doctrine also seeks to address.

Similar to the law in New Jersey, New York’s S4006C will also have some semblance of protection for New York towns that comply with its provisions. Towns in New York will work in three-year cycles to take a series of preferred actions that will give them safe harbor against lawsuits from builders and the State’s Attorney General. In New Jersey, the housing cycle is
every ten years and towns achieve final immunity against builder’s remedy lawsuits. Providing deed-restricted affordable housing is only one of many preferred actions that New York towns can take to achieve safe harbor. Other preferred actions include legalizing Accessory Dwelling
Units and smart growth rezoning.

However, there is a significant difference between the two systems: New York has a voluntary affordable housing system, while New Jersey municipalities must comply with an affirmative requirement to build their fair share of affordable housing. This requirement has proven to be effective in New Jersey and is a key feature of the Mount Laurel Doctrine. Without a requirement to provide legally deed-restricted affordable housing, there is no guarantee that more housing production will reduce rents enough to make housing affordable to a state’s lowest income residents. The difference between New York’s and New Jersey’s approaches on this point will be an interesting area for further study once data is available.

New Jersey’s affordable housing system has been in effect since the Mount Laurel ruling in 1975, which is far longer than the systems in place in many other states. We continue to share the lessons we’ve learned through our decades of experience, most recently  through our latest report Dismantling Exclusionary Zoning: New Jersey’s Blueprint for Overcoming Segregation. As states across the country move towards developing their own affordable housing systems, we hope to be a source of support and information, as well as learn alongside them from their respective experiences.

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