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Home Is Where the Heart Is

Published on October 23rd, 2018 in Fair Share Housing Development


The struggle to provide affordable housing dates to a tumultuous time in the nation’s history. “When I started [working on the issue] in the late 1960s, the major challenge was racial discrimination,” says Peter J. O’Connor ’63. “Many urban centers had just faced riots. A lot of whites were moving to the suburbs — and they were not inviting minorities. They created barriers through exclusionary zoning and planning. The challenge was to change that, and we chose the legal route.”

After earning a Georgetown law degree, O’Connor — a 2003 Sanctae Crucis Award honoree — returned to his home state of New Jersey and has spent the ensuing half-century battling for affordable housing. He was co-counsel in a pair of landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decisions known as “Mount Laurel I (1975)” and “Mount Laurel II (1983).” Essentially, the court decisions — which focused on income rather than race, a first in the U.S. — dictated that when a municipality uses its planning and zoning powers, it must use them for the general welfare. “Including,” O’Connor notes with an understandable note of triumph, “the welfare of low- and moderate-income citizens.”

“Mount Laurel,” which has been called the most important civil rights decision since “Brown v. Board of Education,” has led to the creation of 60,000 homes for lower-income families, seniors and those with special needs. O’Connor went on to found the Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) (“We needed a nonprofit to watch over things long-term,” he says) and, more recently, Fair Share Housing Development (FSHD), a nonprofit developer and manager of 700 units of low-income housing. Through the advocacy and litigation efforts of FSHC, there are currently more than 100,000 additional affordable housing units in the development pipeline pursuant to court-approved “fair share housing” settlements with 230 New Jersey municipalities.

To read the full article in the Fall 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine, click here.

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