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Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb

Douglas S. Massey
Len Albright
Rebecca Casciano
Elizabeth Derickson
David N. Kinsey
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jc8vw
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  • Book Info
    Climbing Mount Laurel
    Book Description:

    Under the New Jersey State Constitution as interpreted by the State Supreme Court in 1975 and 1983, municipalities are required to use their zoning authority to create realistic opportunities for a fair share of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. Mount Laurel was the town at the center of the court decisions. As a result, Mount Laurel has become synonymous with the debate over affordable housing policy designed to create economically integrated communities. What was the impact of the Mount Laurel decision on those most affected by it? What does the case tell us about economic inequality?

    Climbing Mount Laurel undertakes a systematic evaluation of the Ethel Lawrence Homes--a housing development produced as a result of the Mount Laurel decision. Douglas Massey and his colleagues assess the consequences for the surrounding neighborhoods and their inhabitants, the township of Mount Laurel, and the residents of the Ethel Lawrence Homes. Their analysis reveals what social scientists call neighborhood effects--the notion that neighborhoods can shape the life trajectories of their inhabitants. Climbing Mount Laurel proves that the building of affordable housing projects is an efficacious, cost-effective approach to integration and improving the lives of the poor, with reasonable cost and no drawbacks for the community at large.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4604-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Law, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Location Cubed: THE IMPORTANCE OF NEIGHBORHOODS
    (pp. 1-31)

    Any Realtor can tell you that “the three most important things about real estate are location, location, location.” This oft-repeated refrain, which we might label “L³,” or “location cubed,” underscores the importance of place in human affairs. Everyone needs somewhere to live, of course—a dwelling that confers protection from the elements and a private space for eating, sleeping, and interacting with socially relevant others. Naturally the quality of a dwelling has direct implications for the health, comfort, security, and well-being of the people who inhabit it, and matching the attributes of housing with the needs and resources of families...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Suburban Showdown: THE MOUNT LAUREL CONTROVERSY
    (pp. 32-50)

    Mount Laurel Township is located eight miles east of Camden, New Jersey, a decaying industrial suburb of Philadelphia that once housed dozens of factories owned by blue-chip firms such as RCA, Campbell’s Soup, and New York Shipbuilding, Inc. At its peak in 1950, the city of Camden housed 125,000 people who comprised a vibrant middle- and working-class community. During the 1960s, however, the city entered a spiral of urban decline as factories closed, stores departed, services evaporated, and working families exited for better opportunities in surrounding areas. As of 2010, Camden’s population stood at just 77,000 and was half black...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Field of Dreams: ETHEL LAWRENCE HOMES COME TO MOUNT LAUREL
    (pp. 51-63)

    Bringing affordable housing to her hometown of Mount Laurel was very much Ethel Lawrence’s dream. According to her daughter, she was the “Drum Major” of the case and its ensuing litigation, spurring on plaintiffs and lawyers by getting out front and leading the way with enthusiasm and verve. “Ethel Lawrence did not argue the case before the New Jersey Supreme Court,” her daughter has written, “she did not write the legislation which created the NJ Fair Housing Act … nor through this legislation did she create the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing. But, because she cared, fought, and never...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Rhetoric and Reality: MONITORING MOUNT LAUREL
    (pp. 64-79)

    In our earlier review of the political economy of place, we presented a theoretical rationale for anticipating high levels of emotion in debates about land use, and in the specific case of the Ethel Lawrence Homes the residents of Mount Laurel certainly did not disappoint. Whether it was the majority who expressed strong misgivings about locating an affordable housing project within the township, or the minority who offered sympathy and support for the venture, emotions generally ran high. Feelings seemed to be especially raw among those who opposed the project, judging by the invective hurled at public hearings. And in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Neighborly Concerns: EFFECTS ON SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES
    (pp. 80-99)

    Previous chapters have revealed that white suburban residents generally oppose the location of affordable housing developments within their communities, at least those intended for poor families as opposed to the elderly, and that such opposition is at least partially rooted in racial and class prejudice. Apart from prejudice, however, we also argue that suburbanites have legitimate practical reasons to be skeptical about the influence of “public housing” on their communities, given the lamentable record of the projects built throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. Both skepticism and prejudice were evident in the rhetoric employed by Mount Laurel residents...

  11. CHAPTER 6 All Things Considered: NEIGHBORS’ PERCEPTIONS A DECADE LATER
    (pp. 100-120)

    As prior chapters have clearly demonstrated, the path from the earliest efforts to bring affordable housing into Mount Laurel to the final opening of the Ethel Lawrence Homes was anything but smooth (as reflected in figure 2.1). The intervening decades were filled with multiple lawsuits, endless rounds of litigation, raucous media debates, emotional public hearings, protests, threats, and even acts of vandalism. Much of the opposition seems to have been grounded in the widely expressed fear that the opening of an affordable housing development would create a “ghetto in the field,” and thus bring a host of unwanted urban problems...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Greener Pastures: MOVING TO TRANQUILITY
    (pp. 121-146)

    When the struggle to bring affordable housing to Mount Laurel began in the late 1960s, it was merely a local effort to guarantee a place in the community for longtime residents who were being priced out of a booming real estate market. As the battle lines hardened and litigation mounted, however, the struggle became much more than a local zoning dispute. It became part of a larger debate about the role of race, class, and place in perpetuating socioeconomic inequality in the United States. Over time “Mount Laurel” became shorthand for how class exclusion preserved the privileges of the suburban...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Tenant Transitions: FROM GEOGRAPHIC TO SOCIAL MOBILITY
    (pp. 147-183)

    Like earlier studies, to this point we have documented a significant improvement in neighborhood conditions for low-income households as a result of their participation in a housing mobility program. Specifically, by moving into the Ethel Lawrence Homes in Mount Laurel, Jersey, low- and moderate-income families from throughout the region were able to trade inferior housing in high-poverty, predominantly minority, city neighborhoods for well-appointed town houses located in an affluent white suburb. In doing so, they dramatically lowered their exposure to social disorder and violence and reduced the frequency with which they experienced negative life events; and these benefits did not...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Affordable Housing: SUBURBAN SOLUTIONS TO URBAN PROBLEMS
    (pp. 184-196)

    The road to affordable housing in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was long, winding, and fraught with obstacles that had to be overcome one by one in a tedious, seemingly endless process of litigation, negotiation, planning, and implementation. From the time the Springville Community Action Committee first formed in 1969 until Fair Share Housing Development finally opened up the second phase of units to residents in 2004, the Ethel Lawrence Homes were thirty-five years in the making. Over the decades, many fears were expressed and charges levied about the dire consequences of bringing affordable housing to Mount Laurel. Nonetheless the project...

  15. Appendices
    (pp. 197-244)
  16. References
    (pp. 245-260)
  17. Index
    (pp. 261-269)