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Dismantling exclusionary zoning:
new jersey's blueprint for overcoming segregation

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executive summary

Our nation’s deep, multigenerational racial and economic residential segregation comes largely from exclusionary zoning practices that limit housing opportunities across most of the country’s large metropolitan areas. Exclusionary zoning also significantly contributes to the unprecedented housing crisis in America today, with disproportionate impacts on people of color and lower-income people. The effects of residential segregation and our nation’s housing crisis will only be further exacerbated without strong action against exclusionary zoning.
This report examines the development of New Jersey’s Mount Laurel Doctrine, a series of New Jersey Supreme Court decisions obligating towns to provide their fair share of the region’s need for affordable housing, and offers it as a blueprint to dismantle exclusionary zoning nationwide. We identify the key features of New Jersey’s legal and policy framework and how those features work in conjunction with a sustained housing justice movement predicated on grassroots organizing. While fierce opposition to limiting exclusionary zoning in New Jersey has persisted and at times led to setbacks, this sustained movement has continued to move forward through multifaceted organizing, legal, and policy strategies: “We have something special here in New Jersey, and as a result we’ve been able to plan for and build thousands of units of affordable housing despite some tremendous opposition in certain communities,” Frank Argote-Freyre, a founder of the Latino Action Network and Chair of the Fair Share Housing Center Board.
This report also quantifies the impact of the Mount Laurel Doctrine on affordable housing production, overall housing supply, and neighborhood integration — finding that since the reinvigoration of Mount Laurel enforcement in 2015, the rate of affordable housing production has nearly doubled, overall multifamily housing production has significantly increased, and neighborhoods where new homes have been built have become more integrated.
The numbers reflect real impacts on people’s lives and communities, which are captured by firsthand accounts from current affordable housing residents, predominantly women of color, on what housing stability has meant for their lives. It also features insight from housing justice advocates and local officials across the state on the impact of the Mount Laurel Doctrine, with particular developments and New Jersey communities serving as case studies of the positive outcomes of integration.
Throughout the report, we have worked to distill some of the main lessons learned from the New Jersey experience, like the necessity of grassroots organizing, five key features that have made New Jersey’s model effective, the impact of strong enforcement measures on housing production, the need for good data collection, and how integration rebukes residential segregation, one of the strongest tenets of systemic racism in America. The work to dismantle exclusionary zoning will look different in every state based on different structures of local government, zoning laws, and other factors; however, certain critical principles can help shape any policy. We hope you use these lessons in your communities to advance the collective fight for racial, economic, and social integration and a right to safe, healthy, and affordable housing for all.
Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) is grateful to the Wells Fargo Foundation for providing funding for this report. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo or the Foundation.

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Wanda Vidal, Princeton Resident

"People like us, minorities, we want what you want…We want to be in nice neighborhoods, we want to raise our kids in nice places, we want them to go to good schools, we want to own a house."

Wanda, a 58 year old single mother and grandmother, grew up in the Red Hook projects of Brooklyn, New York. She became a single mother at the age of 17 and was constantly in search of an affordable home and safe neighborhood to raise her children in. Since 2003 she has worked for the NJ Turnpike Authority, but has not been able to make a down payment on a home while supporting herself and her children. In 2022, she was finally able to move into what she refers to as her “dream home” through Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing program.

Zelda Charles-Boute, Hamilton Resident

"Sometimes I didn't have anywhere to stay, so I tried to find a better life. I went to school... but sometimes I worked only to pay for a place to stay."

Zelda is a 44 year old married mother of two who works as a CNA for people in assisted living. Upon coming to the U.S. from Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, she struggled to find secure housing and was often homeless. Other times, she would spend the entirety of her paycheck on rent to avoid losing custody of her children. Through Homefront New Jersey, Zelda and her family now live in an affordable home where her daughters can play and explore passions like cooking now that they have a kitchen. Zelda and her family have become part of their community and when asked how she feels about her living situation now, she said “I’m happy. When I’m here, I feel at home.”

Erika Carrion, Marlton Resident

“It’s meant a lot to live here." It’s a good neighborhood. So far, the school district is good. The kids love having their own room. Everyone’s been a lot happier. "I don’t have to worry so much.”

Erika is a 43-year-old single mother of four. She is currently studying to be a neurological diagnostic technician and works at her local hospital as a patient care technician. For many years, Erika struggled to afford her rent and was often concerned about the safety of her previous neighborhoods. In 2020, through Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing program, Erika and her children moved into her current home, where she is grateful for the safety and quiet of her community.

Alana Baptiste, Hamilton Resident

"I think there are more and more people like me who are hurting and don’t have the money for a house or even an apartment."

Alana is a 52-year-old single mother who is currently on dialysis. She receives disability payments, and after losing her home to foreclosure, she became homeless and was unsure of how she would be able to survive. Through assistance from Homefront New Jersey, Alana was able to move into her own apartment in 2018 and has remained there since.