Rowan study: NJ has more housing segregation, sprawl today than in 1970

Rowan study: NJ has more housing segregation, sprawl today than in 1970

Municipal zoning statewide "has resulted in a land use pattern that is substantially more segregated and more sprawling than it was in 1970," according to Rowan researchers.
In the 1970s and '80s, New Jersey's Supreme Court made national news with its decisions requiring suburban municipalities to provide housing for low- and moderate-income households.

In the decades since, the landmark "Mount Laurel decisions" have had some impact on low- and moderate-income housing needs in New Jersey. But the state still finds itself on the fast track to "further sprawl and housing segregation," according to researchers at Rowan University.

In fact, Rowan Geography and Environment Department Chair John Hasse says, municipal zoning statewide "has resulted in a land use pattern that is substantially more segregated and more sprawling than it was in 1970."

In a study, "Evidence of Persistent Exclusionary Effects of Land Use Policy within Historic and Projected Development Patterns in New Jersey," Hasse and his fellow researchers concluded not only that exclusionary zoning and sprawl development have worsened in the last four decades. Also, the researchers determined that the preponderance of large-lot zoning practices today puts the state on track for a future of further sprawl and housing segregation.

"By consuming practically all remaining residentially zoned land, large-lot subdivisions are locking in a residential land-use pattern that excludes many New Jersey households that cannot afford a large-lot single-family home," the study concluded.

The study was conducted by Rowan's Geospatial Research Laboratory under a research contract with the Fair Share Housing Center. It was funded by a grant from the Fund for New Jersey. In addition to Hasse, director of Rowan's Environmental Studies Program, the other researchers include John Reiser, campus GIS specialist at Rowan, and Alexander Pichacz, a Rowan environmental studies alumnus from Sergeantsville, Hunterdon County.

The study found that the Fair Housing Act of 1985, which was intended to eliminate exclusionary zoning in accordance with the Mount Laurel decisions, has made moderate progress in promoting a mix of housing choices near jobs. But together with stricter adherence to land-use practices consistent with the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, the study concluded that sprawl and housing segregation in the state will worsen.

The study focused on case studies in Monmouth and Somerset counties and pointed to the poor coordination between job and housing locations, which, researchers say, will have negative consequences on the state's economic recovery. The report concluded that if current zoning is followed, a large majority of future residential development in both counties will be large-lot subdivisions in even greater proportion than in past patterns, and housing growth will lag far behind job growth.

"It is likely that the imbalance in housing densities and lack of coordination of jobs with housing would have been even worse had the Mount Laurel case and subsequent Mount Laurel policies not been followed," Hasse says.

"Still, the overarching objectives of the State Plan for fostering a sound planning process to meet the housing needs for all New Jersey residents has a long way to go."

For a copy of the full report, visit

Key findings of the study, outlined in bold with additional bullet points, are listed below:

Zoning has resulted in a land-use pattern that is substantially more segregated and more sprawling now than it was in 1970.

•  Since 1986, development patterns have shifted to fewer acres dedicated to compact residential development and more acres dedicated to large-lot residential development.

•  According to the study, 40 percent of residential land within areas the State Plan has designated for growth is still occurring in large-lot subdivisions at densities of two homes per acre of less. That's highly inconsistent with the goals of the State Plan, according to researchers.

•  The predominance of large-lot residential subdivisions being produced by current policy is contrary to the objectives of the State Plan to foster a balanced mix of housing, sound land planning, conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment, according to the study.

Jobs and housing are not well coordinated in New Jersey

•  The study demonstrated an overabundance of land zoned for commercial and industrial zoning, which would generate jobs. But there was far less zoning for apartment, townhouse and small-lot single-family home development, which would generate residential units for workers, researchers note.

Absent the 'Mount Laurel' rulings, residential development would be even less compact and less coordinated with the location of jobs than current patterns indicate

•  While the evidence suggests that exclusionary housing patterns have been prevalent, it is likely that situation would have been worse if there had been no provisions for municipalities to consider affordable housing in their master planning process, according to the researchers.

Policies that are in place today have put New Jersey on track to a future of further sprawl and housing segregation

•  The grossly unbalanced pattern of predominately large-lot residential development and comparatively little compact development in the state has implications for future affordability to housing, as well as for the sustainability of the state as a whole.