Housing advocates surrounded Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver at New Jersey Citizen Action where, with the stroke of a pen, she signed her first piece of legislation as acting governor.
A state Senate joint resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill to outlaw housing discrimination based on race, color, religion and other characteristics. The addition of familial status and disability came later.
“Where you live determines so much about quality of life, especially where your children will be educated,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
Housing advocates acknowledge America’s made a lot of progress in fair housing over the last five decades, but they also say America needs to do so much more.
“I think communities like Newark, where we are today, must focus on making certain that there are not exclusionary planning and zoning laws that are enacted by their municipal government,” Oliver said.
Fair housing and affordable housing have been a cornerstone of Oliver’s public career. Years ago, she was among the parties who successfully sued the federal government to replace demolished public housing unit for unit in Newark. Today, she’s the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, overseeing fair and affordable housing in the state.
“We have to make certain that as we ‘gentrify’ many communities across the state — which we like because that is economic development — but we also have to make certain that people who have lived in communities their entire lives are not pushed out,” Oliver said.
Other challenges ahead include the Garden State’s long history.
“I’m so excited that we have an administration, including Gov. Oliver, who is committed to this because we’re one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the country,” said Kevin Walsh, executive director of Fair Share Housing Center.
Oliver and others say the effort today takes vigilance and diligence.
“That diligence is no less important than it was 50 years ago. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing possibly at the federal level may be even more important today,” said New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency Executive Director Chuck Richman.
Citizen Action is among the organizations that sends couples and individuals out to test whether landlords and real estate agents break the Fair Housing Act. It compares enforcement of the law in this administration to the Obama years.
“We’re definitely seeing a dismantling of consumer protections in this administration,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, director of New Jersey Citizen Action.
“We probably have another 50 years of real hard work at the federal level to go, and they have not made it easy, but we are resilient so we will continue fighting and we’re happy to be in that fight with you,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.