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Fair Housing Opportunities for NJ Families

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As towns across New Jersey prepare their housing plans over the next few months, we call on them to do all they can to help their fellow residents in need

 

These aren't just numbers - they're our brothers, our sisters, our children and our friends. And they deserve our help

 

By Bob Pekar 

 

In the Burlington County Times

 

Imagine trying to recover from a serious mental illness and not being sure where you were going to be able to sleep at night. Or imagine leaving an abusive relationship but not knowing whether you would have a stable home to fall back on where you could rebuild your life.

 

Situations like these are all too common in New Jersey. Even as new research has shown that good housing is the key to getting families confronting mental illness and other disabilities on their feet, too many New Jersey families wait for years on waiting lists to access safe and affordable housing opportunities. At Oaks Integrated Care, we always have families waiting in line for a housing opportunity.

Statewide, of the 120,000 New Jersey residents living with disabilities on the Social Security rolls receiving less than $800 a month, only 41,000 receive federal or state housing assistance. The rest struggle with substandard housing, living at home with aging parents or are at risk for homelessness.

 

But these families have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get the services they need to thrive. In a March ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court reaffirmed our state constitution's commitment to fair housing options for our families.

 

Most attention on our housing policies, known as the Mount Laurel doctrine, focuses on the benefits they provide to working families and senior citizens. But because the needs of people with disabilities and those who suffer from mental illness and domestic violence are so great, our courts recognize that towns have an obligation to provide housing services to them as well.

 

The high court's ruling means that, over the next several months, hundreds of towns across New Jersey will submit housing plans to the courts for judicial review. Towns will have to prove they are taking appropriate steps to ensure they are doing enough to provide New Jersey residents with their fair share of housing opportunities.

 

Thanks to 16 years of litigation and bitter struggles over our state's housing policies, it is understandable that towns are approaching this new process with caution. We invite them to view the next few months as an opportunity to make good on a legal and moral obligation to some of New Jersey's neediest families.

 

As a full-service social service provider with nearly 500 clients in supportive housing environments, we know firsthand the benefits a stable home can bring. A home provides a stable place for people battling devastating mental illnesses to call their own and recover. It also provides opportunities for wraparound services, like counseling and access to social workers, which give people the chance to rebuild their lives.

 

Oaks Integrated Care offers services ranging from food pantries to case management options. But providing quality housing opportunities is the backbone of what we do - because without a home, these other services aren't nearly as effective.

 

Housing isn't just a moral and legal obligation New Jersey municipalities must face. It also makes good financial sense. Supportive housing options save taxpayers money by preventing extended, expensive hospital stays and even homelessness.

 

I call on towns to work cooperatively with developers and nonprofit and advocacy communities to craft local solutions to this pressing problem that work for everyone. As a manager of group homes, permanent supportive housing options and emergency transitional homes, we have deep experience in working with towns across Camden, Burlington and Mercer counties in meeting their housing obligations.

 

Many other organizations with similar expertise are waiting to lend a hand and leverage state, federal and local housing dollars to meet the growing need for these services. The need for this type of housing is so pressing that the courts even allow municipalities to earn bonuses or credits toward their obligations for building certain types of affordable housing units.

 

As towns across South Jersey prepare their housing plans over the next few months, we call on them to do all they can to help their fellow residents in need. These aren't just numbers - they're our brothers, our sisters, our children and our friends. And they deserve our help.

 

Bob Pekar is the CEO of Oaks Integrated Care (formerly Twin Oaks Community Services) in Mount Holly, a member of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey

 

 

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The Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey (SHA) is a statewide, nonprofit organization, founded in 1998, whose mission is to promote and maintain a strong supportive housing industry in New Jersey serving people with special needs.

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