Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Douglas S. Massey et al, "Climbing Mount Laurel"

Douglas S. Massey is the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and director of its Office of Population Research. Len Albright is assistant professor of sociology at Northeastern University. Rebecca Casciano is the CEO of Rebecca Casciano, LLC. Elizabeth Derickson is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University. David N. Kinsey is lecturer of public and international affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and a partner in the planning consulting firm Kinsey & Hand.

Massey applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb, and reported the following:
Climbing Mount Laurel examines how the opening of a celebrated affordable housing project in New Jersey affected the affluent suburban community around it and the lives of the disadvantaged families who were its first inhabitants. The development is celebrated in the sense that it opened only after a bitter, three-decade fight by local officials and community residents to prevent its construction. The struggle was finally settled by a controversial New Jersey Supreme Court decree articulating a new “Mount Laurel Doctrine” that prohibited municipalities from using zoning regulations to block the construction of affordable housing in their jurisdictions. Indeed, the court went on to assert that each municipality had an “affirmative obligation” to accommodate its fair share of the regional need for affordable housing.

Page 99 is the final paragraph of Chapter 5, which showed that, contrary to the dire prognostications of opponents before the fact, the opening of the project had absolutely no effect on tax burdens, crime rates, or home values in the surrounding community. The remaining chapters demonstrate how moving from rundown housing in poor inner city neighborhoods into attractive townhouses in an affluent white suburb improved the lives of the mostly black and Latino residents—dramatically lowering the degree of exposure to social disorder and violence, improving mental health, lowering the frequency of negative life events, raising rates of employment, increasing earnings, reducing welfare use, increasing parental involvement in education, raising hours of study by students, and greatly improving the academic quality, safety, and security of the schools they attended—all at no cost to nearby residents or New Jersey taxpayers.

In the paragraph my coauthors and I conclude that “to the extent that moving into a safe, quiet, affluent suburb provides project residents with new access to benefits and resources with which they can make their way out of poverty, affordable housing may constitute an important social mobility program capable of breaking the cycle of disadvantage they left behind in poor urban neighborhoods.” We hope that NJ Governor Chris Christie reads the book. Perhaps then he will cease his efforts to overturn the Mount Laurel Doctrine and defund affordable housing initiatives throughout the state.
Learn more about Climbing Mount Laurel at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue