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NJ Assembly Passes Landmark Affordable Housing Reform Legislation

TRENTON – Today, the New Jersey General Assembly approved landmark legislation (Bill A4) to set a course for future enforcement of the Mount Laurel Doctrine, the state’s constitutional requirement for every town to provide its fair share of affordable housing. The legislation is accompanied by a package of several other bills also scheduled for Assembly approval that will provide additional tools to help create and preserve affordable homes.

The legislation would streamline the affordable housing development process for municipalities and everyone involved by codifying the methodology used to determine affordable housing obligations — thus reducing judicial involvement and legal costs. The bill’s primary sponsors are Assembly Housing Chair Yvonne Lopez, Speaker Craig Coughlin and State Senate Community and Urban Affairs Chair Troy Singleton and Senate President Nicholas Scutari.

New Jersey currently faces a significant gap in affordable housing units — an estimated shortage of more than 230,000 homes, with 14 prospective renters for each vacant home. Last month, over 60 civil rights leaders, housing organizations and other key stakeholders sent a letter to Gov. Murphy and legislative leadership expressing strong support for the legislation and encouraging its expeditious passage. 

Although FSHC and a broad coalition are supporting the bill, they are seeking changes to some amendments that were introduced by the Assembly last week — most notably a reduction of the minimum time that homes are required to remain affordable to 30 years for new rentals and 20 years for homes for-sale. We look forward to working with the legislative sponsors after the Assembly passes the bill today to address these issues before the bill reaches the Governor’s desk.

The Mount Laurel Doctrine was established through a series of watershed New Jersey Supreme Court decisions beginning in 1975 in litigation brought by the Southern Burlington County and Camden County Branches of the NAACP. Affordable housing obligations are based on population changes and growth in a region each decade. The current round of affordable housing obligations go through 2025, at which point the Fourth Round of obligations will begin.

“Today’s vote is good news for New Jersey families who are struggling to keep up with skyrocketing housing costs,” said Adam Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Center. “This legislation puts New Jersey on a path toward historic gains in affordable housing production over the next decade. By setting forth clear rules now, municipalities and everyone else involved will understand what’s needed to address New Jersey’s dire housing shortages. We look forward to working to get a final version of the bill on the Governor’s desk soon, and ensuring that bill is the strongest version of the bill possible, especially around making sure that new affordable homes remain affordable over time.”

“First established through organizing and legal action by residents and local NAACP branches in Southern Burlington and Camden Counties almost 50 years ago, the Mount Laurel Doctrine has helped achieve greater economic integration across New Jersey.  But we still have a long way to go,” said Mike McNeil, State Housing Chair of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “For Black residents, our state’s worsening housing shortage is compounded by the historical impacts of residential segregation. This legislation would go a long way to address the denial of equal access to opportunity that has plagued our state for decades. The NAACP particularly is committed to making sure that the final bill includes stronger deed restrictions to protect the affordability of newly-built homes and looks forward to making sure those provisions are included.”

“Our Network of over 270 members is working hard to make our state a healthy, affordable place everyone can call home,” said Staci Berger, President & CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of NJ. “Our non-profit members and other housing champions have 35 years of experience building the affordable homes NJ residents need and deserve. This legislation creates a strong framework for our members to continue providing homes so that all NJ’s residents can thrive. As this important piece of legislation moves through the process, we urge our elected officials to promote long-term affordability by extending and protecting deed restrictions that create housing security in the Garden State. Thank you to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Assembly Housing Committee Chair Yvonne Lopez and all of the members of the Assembly who support our shared goal of ensuring housing justice and who voted to advance this fair housing bill today. We look forward to working with Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Senate Community Urban Affairs Chair Troy Singleton and other senators to move this legislation quickly, so we can House New Jersey.”

“Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and their children. Affordable housing serves as a catalyst for breaking the cycle of violence and abuse. Affordable, safe housing is safety for survivors and also gives survivors the stability necessary to access crucial holistic support services — advocacy, therapeutic interventions, legal aid, counseling — that are indispensable in their journey to living lives free of violence,” said Cierra Hart, Director of Housing and Economic Justice at the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “We applaud the Assembly’s vote today and look forward to working with the Senate to get this crucial bill to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.”

“It’s encouraging that New Jersey is taking steps to invest in affordable housing with this forward-thinking legislation. Considering that our state is home to some of the most competitive for-sale and rental markets in the U.S., we can’t afford not to,” said Lori Leonard, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of South Central NJ. “The evidence is clear that comparatively, families who live in affordable homes have better economic and health outcomes than those who were unable to obtain affordable housing. For the sake of New Jersey’s economic future, lawmakers must protect the state’s long-term affordability by strengthening our affordable housing policies.”

“Today’s vote is a major step toward addressing the statewide housing shortage that is wreaking havoc in the daily lives of millions of families all across New Jersey, in towns big and small.  For Latino residents, housing instability is exacerbated by the historical impacts of discrimination and residential segregation,” said Javier Robles, President of Latino Action Network.  “This legislation provides an orderly process for ensuring that affordable housing units are approved and built across the state in a timely fashion.  The working men and women whom we rely on to keep our society functioning deserve nothing less.”

“By passing A4 today, the Assembly has reaffirmed its commitment to Mt Laurel and has advanced its obligation to doing all it can to ensure that all New Jerseyans will have access to safe affordable homes,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, Financial Justice Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action. “By streamlining the process by which municipalities fulfill their fair share of obligations to create affordable housing,  the state can move much more efficiently toward solving the affordable housing shortage crisis that continues to have such a negative impact on the health and financial wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of its citizens and their families.”

“By codifying what has worked from the current court enforcement process, we can safeguard affordable housing for years to come. Codifying the methodology would allow municipalities to more effectively and efficiently determine their obligation without prolonged judicial involvement and would reduce legal costs associated with the affordable housing process,” said Anita Wemple, President & CEO, Community Planning and Advocacy Council. “While there are some changes we’d like to see — such as prioritizing long-term affordability by extending and protecting deed restrictions on affordable housing — overall this legislation is a big step in the right direction.”

Key provisions in the legislation include:

Streamlined Process – The Department of Community Affairs will provide initial guidance numbers for affordable housing obligations. A new Affordable Housing Dispute Resolution Program would provide mediation opportunities to municipalities to address concerns with the obligations and process. This includes clear timelines for each phase of the Mount Laurel certification process, including identification of the affordable housing obligation, adoption of a fair share plan, and adoption of final municipal zoning ordinances and related actions. 

Codification of Affordable Housing Obligation Methodology – Inclusion of a statewide method for each municipality to calculate their respective affordable housing obligation for the fourth round and beyond, based on the “Jacobson Methodology” adopted in 2018 that represented a middle ground between advocates and municipal positions. Codifying the methodology would allow municipalities to more effectively and efficiently determine their obligation without prolonged judicial involvement, while reducing legal costs associated with the affordable housing process.

Increased Transparency – Requires more transparent information to be shared with the public at each stage of the process, from adoption of initial plans to what is built and what trust funds are available to non-profit developers to create and rehabilitate affordable housing. Includes regulatory updates on how affordable homes are built and occupied and how trust funds are expended that have not been updated in nearly 20 years. 

Repeal of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) – Removes COAH from statute. COAH became a defunct agency that failed to meet its mandate. As such, its removal will allow affordable housing to progress in New Jersey.

No Regional Contribution Agreements – Maintains the ban on wealthy towns paying out of their obligations and requires every town to do its fair share.


Fair Share Housing Center is a nonprofit advocacy organization that uses legal, policy, and community-building strategies to dismantle decades of racial and economic discrimination in New Jersey and nationally that excludes people from the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, and affordable housing.