Housing: Code for Social, Economic, and Racial Integration

Last week, the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey celebrated its 20th anniversary in New Brunswick, New Jersey’s humble urban area in the center of the the state. The mood was celebratory, at times raucous, at times reflective, but most important was the dominant tone of work unfinished.

In places like New Jersey, and throughout the country, the work to promote social equity is never complete, and while HCDNNJ, or “The Network,” as it’s more commonly known, celebrates entering its third decade, no one is ever satisfied, nor should they be.

“This is a great time, but we still have challenges,” said Diane Johnson, field office director at the Newark HUD. “And it’s not only about affordability and community, but also to do our job well.

That said, while optimism was typically guarded, Johnson was definitive when she predicted that “under this administration, we will win the victory.”

Diane Sterner, Network executive director and NHI board member, was recently highlighted in The Star-Ledger, and in line with the tone in New Brunswick last week, the piece asked those existential socio-political questions that are hard to answer, but easily instill that motivational spark in searching for answers:

What kind of state should New Jersey be? How should its people live—separately, divided by race and wealth? Or together, in integrated communities, sharing its riches and its problems?

In Building from the Ground Up: 20 Years of Community Economic Development in New Jersey,, the Network’s comprehensive and reflective study that serves as a companion to the organization’s anniversary, points to many of the Network’s accomplishments of the group’s 250 members, including the preservation or creation of 26,000 affordable homes and over 3,200 supportive housing units; employing over 10,000 people; and the construction or renovation of more than 840,000 square feet of commercial space that led to the revitalization of several key business districts and commercial zones.

Housing-related challenges facing New Jersey abound, never mind a foreclosure crisis that threatens to unravel much of the 40 years of community development work or a state agency, but with CDCs throughout the state still committed to rebuilding communities and producing and preserving affordable housing, there is still room for hope.

But moving toward the next 20 years, there’s still much work to be done, Sterner told The Ledger:

“The current foreclosure and financial crises are changing these dynamics once again, destabilizing many neighborhoods. While the weight of the state’s fiscal distress is tangible, the pain caused to our lower-income communities by the current economic crisis is even more acute.”

And as the piece aptly reported, all of this falls under the umbrella of “housing.” Seems like an oversimplification to me, but sometimes keeping things simple makes the goal more definable.

Matthew Brian Hersh served as senior editor at Shelterforce from March 2008 to October 2012. He studied English at Rutgers University and has spent his professional career in journalism, policy, and politics.


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