We’ll return to this issue in more detail in future – we just wanted highlight that we’ve been doing outreach for our partners Fair Share Housing Center . The principle of Fair Share Affordable Housing is a critical piece to creating fertile grounds for integration. Fair share housing is part of the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Era. And without organizations like FSHC maintaining and advancing widely spread affordable homes and rentals, New Jersey would be a less integrated state.
Definition of the Issue
A huge error that we make in an policy or development conversation is to have a “blink” response to the term affordable housing as somehow code for ‘a project to fill the community with very poor, struggling people and diminish the neighborhood and schools for everyone else.’ Many people, even those who know better, frequently accept this false axiom in their thinking and their decisions. This leads to a perpetuation of a status quo in which we have largely geographically separated rich, middle and poor residents: to most everyone’s detriment. The infamous negative connotations of affordable housing are no accident; they were and still are purposefully purported by certain vested interests. Further, when communities face challenges, affordable housing (and low income residents) are typically scapegoated by both liberals and conservatives. Positive examples of successful projects that integrate affordable and market rate housing to build stabley mixed class/racial communities are usually ignored, overlooked, dismissed or poorly understood (when they should be replicated!).
But no matter the excuses for it, the correlation between affordable housing and community deterioration is simply wrong. The correlation harbors and enables a corrupt form of geographic injustice and trampling on the freedom of people with low to moderate means to select quality places to live. But it’s a falsehood that our reasonable and compassionate minds can work to overcome. That’s why faith leaders must play a role in educating themselves and the public on the realities of this seemingly ‘boring’ planning or development problem. And why Open and Fair Share Housing Center are collaborating to echo the following sentiments:
• There is a (growing) need for affordable homes and rentals in our home state of New Jersey (and many others!).
• One possible response to this need is to have just a few of the communities provide most of the affordable units, concentrating them in certain areas; while many other communities provide few or no mechanisms to balance affordable homes and rentals in with market rate ones.
• But a much better response – much fairer, more sustainable, more conducive to long-term economic growth and social stability for everyone – is if the affordable housing is spread among more of the communities in the State. This is each community offering its “fair share.”
Affordable Housing is not only a question just about how to house the very poor (although that is part of the question). In order to be affordable, housing should not exceed about one-third of a household’s income. By those standards, most of us are sunk by our current housing costs! Rising housing cost to falling incomes have been well documented. Today, those who are in need of both affordable rental and affordable owner units include students, elderly, parents, many types of professionals, civil servants and indeed much of the tax paying middle class! (Dare we say… 99% of people???) So one issue is just that there is not enough quality affordable housing in total (and there wasn’t enough before the recession of 2007-2009, either).
The equity question is can everyone be given a competitive chance by being able to afford to live in quality communities? There should be decent housing for everyone, and what is decent is very dependent on the location and community. Can one’s housing be truly good ‘quality’ if it is stuck in a community with low resources, failing institutions and no jobs? While in our free market we are OK with people paying more for nicer housing units or styles, should that also mean that entire geographies, not just specific units, are attainable only with lots of money? It may be hard to imagine because of the concentrations of both wealth and poverty we’ve come to accept as natural for a few generations now, but it is possible that affordable housing of all different types and levels could be spread more evenly around our towns and cities. To do so would be to foster integration, equity for working families, and regional economic stability (as concentrated poverty ends up weakening entire regions and states).
New Jersey as an Example
Right now, New Jersey needs more total affordable units AND too much of our existing affordable housing is concentrated in too few places. This is true despite 60,000 units of Fair Share housing being created in recent decades – more than any other state (except California, which is much bigger than NJ) – thanks mainly to the Mt. Laurel Doctrine established by the courts in the 1970s and 1980s.
But for such a populous and dense place with such high market rate housing prices, New Jersey still needs a lot more Fair Share affordable units! It has been estimated that more than 115,000 affordable homes are needed!
The unfortunate messages from many municipalities and the Governor’s office (with a minority of state legislators) is that municipalities should be able to choose based on their own criteria and desires whether they want to have housing for moderate and lower-income New Jerseyans. This is a bad policy that will harm our State. Fair Share Housing Center is a the main organization fighting to maintain and expand Fair Share.
Our Friends at FSHC
For more information on the details of Fair Share Housing Center’s history and ongoing efforts, please see www.fairsharehousing.org
More on this topic in the future,
-E and E