March 1, 2023

Princeton Residents Support Mt. Laurel Doctrine, Fair Share Housing

To the Editor:

We respect that there can be differences of opinion with regards to housing policy, but Mayor Freda’s comments [The Montgomery News, February 23] to a group of realtors in Montgomery in January go beyond a difference in opinion. They reflect a lingering, unproductive narrative in Princeton. We the undersigned dispute these characterizations and remind the public that they are misguided and unrepresentative.

Mayor Freda suggested that our inclusionary developments inherently underproduce affordable units and that there are issues with how and where they are built. Princeton’s fair share settlement contradicts this narrative. Consider its ambitious plan for housing on Franklin Ave — 50 percent affordable, 50 percent market rate. Or consider that most of this housing will be located on vastly underutilized, already-developed land in walkable areas with access to public transit. More importantly, Mayor Freda implies a preference for an alternative that does not presently exist. Inclusionary developments may not be perfect, but they provide critically important affordable housing now without requiring significant public subsidy. Waiting for a different solution to materialize is a proven strategy to undermine affordable housing construction and belies the urgency of the matter.

Mayor Freda also invoked the greedy developer trope to deflect from our municipality’s failure to provide enough housing. This scapegoats all developers into one amorphous villain, ignoring that this category includes nonprofit and local developers, many of whom are caring, engaged citizens who contribute to the vitality of our community. Moreover, Mount Laurel obligations are negotiated to legalize or make feasible housing that was not under previous rules. It does not suspend zoning rules or the many procedural approvals that projects still require in settled municipalities. Anyone who suggests this either misunderstands the process or is intentionally trying to mislead.

Most disturbingly, Mayor Freda accused the Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) — without any evidence — of primarily receiving its funding from developers and builders. In reality, FSHC holds municipalities and developers accountable and receives much of its funding from organizations such as the Fund for New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We have FSHC’s work to thank for the vast majority of affordable housing built in Princeton and New Jersey, including its work to guarantee the
equitable distribution of Hurricane Sandy relief or its advocacy on behalf of New Jerseyans facing housing discrimination. Attempts to discredit this organization, one of the pre-eminent fair housing organizations in the country, is an embarrassment for Princeton.

We should remember what led to the establishment of the Mount Laurel Doctrine and the Fair Share Housing Center nearly 50 years ago. Black residents facing blatant housing discrimination, led by civil rights activist Ethel Lawrence, sued Mount Laurel to forbid its practice of exclusionary zoning and allow for affordable housing construction. Despite the progress made, we still struggle to rid ourselves of exclusionary zoning and remain one of the most segregated and exclusionary parts of the country. We applaud FSHC, reject scapegoating and excuses, and reaffirm that Princeton will someday be a place where our rhetoric and policies reflect a sincere commitment to housing for all.

Matt Mleczko
Bank Street

Udi Ofer
Armour Road

Maria Juega
Grover Avenue

Carol Golden
Snowden Lane

The signatories write as private citizens and not on behalf of any organizations. In addition, Mleczko serves as a consultant with the Fair Share Housing Center.