July 19, 2019 | 87° F

Lecturers discuss effects of equal housing opportunities

Photo by Ivana Garces |

Kevin Walsh, associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center, discusses how low-income families should have the opportunities to live in better neighborhoods.

Once Kevin Walsh noticed his college town’s railroad tracks separated the white and black communities, he realized that racial segregation is a reality in New Jersey.

The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy hosted Walsh, the associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill, N.J. and Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, for a lecture titled “Mount Laurel: In the Courts and in the Lives of the People.”

The event, held last night in the Civic Square Building in New Brunswick, was the school’s 26th Isadore Candeub Memorial Lecture, an annual series that recognizes achievements in planning, according to a press release.

Stuart Meck, associate research professor at the Bloustein School, introduced the lecture by explaining what the Mount Laurel Doctrine entails.

“The doctrine is a set of rulings by the [New Jersey] Supreme Court that states that under the New Jersey constitution … municipalities that zone have an obligation under the constitution to provide realistic opportunities for low income housing,” he said.

Because the state made three Mount Laurel related Supreme Court decisions this year alone, Meck believed that issues surrounding affordable housing are of utmost importance in New Jersey.

Walsh has worked with the Fair Share Housing Center since 2000 in an effort to seek fair housing for New Jersey. Walsh’s interest in the battle for fair housing dates back to his college years, where he was exposed to extreme cases of segregation.

“It was only then driving back from that trip where I realized where I grew up [in Camden County] similarly divided people,” he said.

He said segregation exists in New Jersey and believes the Mount Laurel Doctrine can have a positive impact by giving low-income families the opportunity to live in better neighborhoods.

Regardless of the legislation, municipalities still find ways to undermine the doctrine.

“We heard story after story about simple strip malls that would be denied land by the municipalities and would rather the land remain vacant than allowing substantial development that would allow for affordable housing,” Walsh said.

After years of debate and litigations regarding the Mount Laurel Doctrine, many question whether or not the doctrine should remain in the state’s constitution.

“It is important that we remove the Mount Laurel Doctrine and the Council on Affordable Housing from the politics that make too easily the issue of affordable housing a political football,” Walsh said.

Massey co-authored the book, “Climbing Mount Laurel,” where he explained his research that proved how the doctrine is a success.

Massey argued that the doctrine is not only important for low-income families but society as a whole.

In Massey’s research, he discovered that citizens of the neighborhoods where low-income developments were being placed all held the same fears and concerns about people entering their community from impoverished areas.

“I saw this as an opportunity to test and show the importance of neighborhoods, to show that how moving to an advantaged neighborhood can offer a step up to poor families and dramatically change their lives,” he said.

Massey studied the changes caused by the Ethel Lawrence Housing, a 100 percent affordable housing development in Mount Laurel. Massey compared the statistics of Mount Laurel’s crime rates, property values and tax rates when people began living in Ethel Lawrence with those of neighboring municipalities.

“When you do a complex statistical analysis, you find that there’s no statistical difference between Mount Laurel and the neighboring townships,” he said. “Ethel Lawrence had no effect on these statistics.”

He not only noted the lack of change in these statistics due to Ethel Lawrence housing, but he noted the improvement of life for those living in Ethel Lawrence.

“People move from neighborhoods of high crime, high violence and disorder to low violence, low disorder neighborhoods,” he said. “There was a big improvement of mental health — there was less stress.”

Because of the decrease in stress, Massey also believes his studies show that parents became more productive the work place, achieved more economic independence and become more involved in their children’s educations.

“This promotes as cost-effective way to promote racial and class integration, and it promotes social mobility of the disadvantaged,” he said. “It’s a win-win-win situation.”

By Erin Walsh

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