Report Identifies Missed Opportunities in Implementation of New Jersey’s Fair Housing Act, Makes Recommendations to Accelerate Affordable Housing Development

A new report by Fair Share Housing Center, Untapped Resources: How New Jersey Can Leverage State Financing and Land for Affordable Housing, outlines the legislative history of New Jersey’s “Fair Housing Act,” shows how the act has been used to support affordable housing, and offers policymakers recommendations for fully implementing the act’s provisions to accelerate affordable housing development across the state. The report also highlights the longstanding racial and economic disparities that exist in New Jersey, illuminates the intersections between racial justice and housing, and demonstrates how racial inequities contribute to worsening health and well-being outcomes for residents. Advocates hope the report will highlight existing opportunities to spur affordable housing development that do not require the passage of new legislation.

New Jersey has enacted several key policies to support the development of affordable housing. The Mount Laurel Doctrine, which was established in 1975 when the New Jersey Supreme Court held that every town must provide its “fair share” of the regional need for affordable housing, along with the “New Jersey Fair Housing Act of 1985” have led to the development of tens of thousands of affordable homes across the state. However, these policies have yielded neither equitable nor sufficient housing development (see Memo, 07/2020).  In 2008, New Jersey amended its Fair Housing Act to require that any residential development supported by state funding reserve 20% of new homes as affordable housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income households. This policy was reinforced in 2021 when the New Jersey Legislature passed a $14 billion package of tax credits for the Economic Development Authority.

Despite such advances, the report argues that the state has yet to fully enforce the Fair Housing Act amendment or set forth clear guidance showing how state agencies can abide by the law. As a result, too few units have been created, and for some development projects discussed in the report, the Fair Share Housing Center has had to initiate or threaten litigation to ensure that statutory requirements were met. The report also features a map of 37 state-owned properties in urban, suburban, and rural locations that present prime opportunities for affordable housing development, with six properties highlighted and discussed in detail.

The report recommends steps New Jersey can immediately take to fully realize the intent of the Fair Housing Act and address the urgent need for more affordable housing. These include the following:

  • Issue clear guidance to state agencies that ensure compliance with the 20% affordable housing requirement for state-assisted projects.
  • Direct state agencies to formulate and adopt a rule requiring state-assisted projects to reserve 20% of new units as affordable.
  • Direct the state’s Department of Treasury to incorporate the 20% affordable housing requirement into its Joint Circular on the utilization of state-owned lands.
  • Commit to identify prime state-owned lands to be used to create substantial opportunities for affordable housing.

“New Jersey is facing an affordability crisis,” said Adam Gordon, executive director of Fair Share Housing Center. “As rents and home prices continue to rise, New Jersey must do all that it can to preserve affordability and create more affordable housing opportunities. Leveraging and enforcing requirements for the state to include affordable homes when it provides economic incentives or land towards development will help accelerate affordable housing for thousands of New Jerseyans. We hope this report leads to stronger enforcement and implementation of what the Legislature has properly made a priority. If fully implemented, this provision of the Fair Housing Act can have a substantial impact on affordable housing development in our state.”

The full report can be found here.