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1985, Mount Laurel 3 - The Constitutional challenge to the FHA legislation

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In 1985 the New Jersey Legislature passed the Fair Housing Act. Some viewed the Act as a way to weaken the strong Mount Laurel doctrine the New Jersey Supreme Court had put in place three years earlier in the Mount Laurel II case. Others viewed the passage of the Fair Housing Act as a vindication of the Court’s work over the past decade. Chief Justice Wilenz, in reviewing the constitutionality of the new law in the case of Hills Dev. Co. v. Bernards Tp. in Somerset Cty., 103 N.J. 1, 510 A.2d 621, (1986), embraced the latter view:

The Act that we review and sustain today represents a substantial effort by the other branches of government to vindicate the Mount Laurel constitutional obligation. This is not ordinary legislation. It deals with one of the most difficult constitutional, legal and social issues of our day — that of providing suitable and affordable housing for citizens of low and moderate income. In Mount Laurel II, we did not minimize the difficulty of this effort — we stressed only its paramount importance — and we do not minimize its difficulty today. But we believe that if the Act before us works in accordance with its expressed intent, it will assure a realistic opportunity for lower income housing in all those parts of the state where sensible planning calls for such housing.
Most objections raised against the Act assume that it will not work, or construe its provisions so that it cannot work, and attribute both to the legislation and to the Council a mission, nowhere expressed in the Act, of sabotaging the Mount Laurel doctrine. On the contrary, we must assume that the Council will pursue the vindication of the Mount Laurel obligation with determination and skill. If it does, that vindication should be far preferable to vindication by the courts, and may be far more effective.

The Fair Housing Act established an administrative agency, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) that was charged with overseeing municipal disputes on affordable housing. COAH decisions are available here.

Explore documents related to the Mount Laurel III litigation

Link to the legislative history of the Fair Housing Act (L. 1985, ch. 222).

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