New Jersey has been a leader in judicial, legislative, and administrative efforts to combat regulatory barriers to affordable housing. The state's basic statute (New Jersey Fair Housing Act of 1985) responded to landmark decisions by the state’s Supreme Court in the Mount Laurel cases (Mount Laurel I, 336 A.2d 713 (N.J.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 808 (1975); Mount Laurel II, 456 A.2d 390 (1983)). In those cases, the court declared local zoning and other housing-related regulations unconstitutional where they do not permit the requisite opportunity for development in the community of a fair share of the region’s need for low-and moderate income housing.


The New Jersey Fair Housing Act reaffirmed some parts of the judicial “Mount Laurel  Doctrine” and modified others. It also created an administrative agency (the Council on Affordable Housing ("COAH")) to determine each municipality’s fair share of its region’s affordable housing needs. COAH has had a controversial history and compliance with its determinations is voluntary.


The Fair Housing Act has been credited for approximately 40,000 new units of affordable housing that were built, or were in the development process, between 1986 (the Act’s effective date) and 2006. However, many critics argue that the Act and COAH have fallen short of meeting New Jersey’s affordable housing needs, and others argue that it imposes excessive burdens on municipalities. Erin McKenna (GWU Law ’12), aided part-time by Robyn Burrows (GMU Law ’12), compiled an in-depth analysis this Summer of New Jersey’s extensive experience attempting to control regulatory barriers to affordable housing.