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1975, Mount Laurel 1

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Mount Laurel is a small suburban town in southern New Jersey near Camden and Philadelphia. In the 1960s its zoning ordinance required new homes to be constructed on lots of not less than half an acre. The zoning excluded the construction of multi-family units and townhomes. Seeking access to affordable housing, residents in Springville neighborhood, a mostly African-American section of town, formed the Springville Community Action Committee in the late 1960s. The committee crafted a plan to rezone 32 acres for the construction of garden apartments and submitted it to the Town Council. After many revisions and meetings, Mayor Bill Haines presented the township’s response to a packed meeting at Jacob’s Chapel A.M.E. church, in October of 1970.

Mayor Haines rejected the plan to build affordable housing in Mount Laurel and told the residents: "If you people can’t afford to live in our town, then you’ll just have to leave." Among those present at the meeting was Ethel Lawrence, a school teacher, a member of the Southern Burlington chapter of the NAACP, and a founding member of the Springville Community Action Committee. Her family had lived in Mount Laurel for seven generations but her children were unable to find affordable housing in Mount Laurel. Ethel Lawrence did not take the mayor’s advice and tell them to leave town. Instead she became the lead plaintiff in a case that transformed the law of zoning and affordable housing in America.

Burlington County Superior Court Decision striking down the Mount Laurel zoning ordinance: 119 N.J. Super 164, 290 A.2d 465, May 1, 1972.

New Jersey Supreme Court Decision upholding the trial court (Mount Laurel I) 67 N.J. 151, 336 A.2d 713, March 24, 1975.

Supreme Court Briefs in Mount Laurel I decision

Biography of Ethel Robinson Lawrence

Collections in this community

Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mt. Laurel, 67 N.J. 151 (Mar. 24, 1975)


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