PERTH AMBOY — Civil rights advocates are routing against Mayor Wilda Diaz in the upcoming election because she joined Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to abolish the state’s affordable housing effort, which would have hurt both the poor and middle class and thrust New Jersey back to the dark days before segregation was outlawed.
Leaders say they will make a concerted drive to remind Obama supporters to vote against Diaz by supporting Billy Delgado in the Nov. 6 election.
A lawsuit brought against Mount Laurel by the Southern Burlington County NAACP led to the landmark 1983 state Supreme Court ruling saying all towns have an obligation to provide affordable houses and apartments for low- and moderate-income residents.
That prompted the Fair Housing Act of 1985. Over the past two decades, more than half of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities agreed to provide housing — some after being forced by courts.
More than 40,000 units were created, but while housing advocates say another 116,000 are needed Diaz and many Republicans want to scrap the effort, which would open a door to racism that keep the poor concentrated in cities.
Diaz recently agreed to convert plans for the Landings development from luxury housing into a high-density rental apartment scheme.
The housing act originally allowed higher-income suburbs to pay their way out. They could “sell” as much as half of their housing obligation to poorer urban centers through regional contribution agreements, or RCAs.
Housing activists and clergy decried this as a form of unspoken racism that kept the poor concentrated in cities.
In a speech at Princeton University in 2004, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts declared, “New Jersey must abolish these odious and exploitative RCAs once and for all.”
Advocates rallied behind a housing bill Gov. Jon Corzine signed into law in October 2008, eliminating RCAs and providing extra money for urban housing from a 2.5-percent fee on the value of new commercial development.
“We pressed state and national policy makers to act on bipartisan solutions to urgent problems impacting our communities including high property taxes, inadequate education funding, lack of jobs, underfunded infrastructure investment, and an exorbitant and discriminatory criminal justice system,” said Rev. R. Lenton Buffalo Jr., president of Building One New Jersey.
U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg have sought federal funding to revitalize public housing and transform distressed neighborhoods in their cities in consultation with public housing residents, local businesses, government officials, and other community members.
“I am championing the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative because I believe we must take a comprehensive approach to rebuilding struggling neighborhoods – an approach which recognizes the importance of providing affordable housing, but also addresses the need for access to transportation, good jobs, schools and supportive services,” said Menendez, chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development.