Guest Post by John Mangin: I’m an affordable housing developer in New Jersey, a state with some of the country’s highest housing costs and the birthplace of exclusionary housing litigation. Until the landmark Mount Laurel decisions in the 1970s and 80s, town after town in NJ used large-lot, single family zoning and other land use regulation to exclude non-wealthy families. The NJ Supreme Court ruled that municipalities could no longer completely zone out townhouses, apartments, mobile homes, and other housing that lower-income families can afford. Mount Laurel served as the first precedent for similar decisions across the country.
These days, most affordable housing creation relies on government subsidies and set-asides to build new income-restricted units with capped rents. The system works great for the families who win the literal lotteries for units. They get the opportunity to live in better housing, sometimes in areas with jobs and schools that allow for upward mobility. (A lot can depend on whether you grow up in Mount Laurel instead of Camden.) It’s worthwhile work, but this strategy can’t do much for housing affordability more generally.