For most Americans, housing costs are the biggest item in a household budget.
For New Jersey’s nearly 9 million residents, housing costs are among the highest in the nation, evictions occur at an unprecedented rate, and residential foreclosures outpace the rest of the country. Development over the last several decades has brought the state close to build-out and the resulting sprawl has separated economic opportunities and affordable homes. More recently, Superstorm Sandy has demonstrated New Jersey’s vulnerability to extreme weather associated with climate change, weather that has damaged homes and communities and displaced vulnerable residents.
Today, too many New Jerseyans struggle to find an affordable, convenient, and safe place to call home.
This was not always true. More than 30 years ago, New Jersey recognized twin threats: (1) sprawl that consumed open space and farmland while creating pollution and (2) exclusionary zoning that kept struggling families at a distance from good schools and job opportunities. In response, New Jersey became a national leader on both fronts. In 1975 and 1983, the state Supreme Court issued the landmark Mount Laurel affordable housing decisions, and in 1985 the Legislature enacted both the Fair Housing Act, to provide affordable housing opportunities, and the State Planning Act, to protect the environment, revitalize cities and towns, and foster economic growth.1
In the years since, the number of homes that moderate- and low-income families can afford has diminished, as has the “variety and choice of [available] housing.”2 Scattershot planning and land-use practices have continued the spread of sprawl. At the same time, demand for homes in many of New Jersey’s urban centers and walkable suburban downtowns is increasing as more recent trends show that this is where aging baby boomers, millennials, and immigrants—the three largest population groups in New Jersey—are choosing to live.
New Jersey can get back on track if we focus leadership, financial resources, and sensible policies on four important issues:
- Investing in affordable homes and communities, including transit-oriented development as well as supportive housing and homelessness prevention
- Advancing Mount Laurel goals and fair housing initiatives to promote integration and opportunity
- Reducing evictions and foreclosures
- Embracing regional and state planning with an emphasis on climate resiliency and urban and downtown revitalization
Tackling these four connected issues would promote housing affordability and choice, improve New Jersey’s economic well-being, mitigate the effects of climate change, and expand the diversity and vibrancy of the state’s communities.