Imagine that you’ve lived in the same neighborhood for most of your life. Your friends, your family, your personal history are all rooted there.
Then the town decides that your neighborhood is a dump. It wants to make the working-class area more upscale by “revitalizing” it, but that means displacing you and your neighbors, most of whom are over 50 and nonwhite.
Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? But that was the reality for 50 or so residents of the Mount Holly Gardens neighborhood in Mount Holly, N.J. About 10 years ago, the town announced a revitalization plan for the neighborhood that included displacing its current residents.
The residents sued, arguing that the redevelopment plan violated the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Talk about David and Goliath — the residents fought so hard and so long (represented in part by AARP) that their case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That’s a major accomplishment in and of itself, especially when you consider that the Supreme Court hears only about 75 cases a year out of 8,000. In fact, the Court seems to consider this issue incredibly important; last year, it agreed to hear a similar case out of Minnesota.
But now the Court will not hear the Mount Holly Gardens case, because the parties have resolved their issues on their own.
So why is this settlement such a big deal? Well, on the human side, it’s a huge victory — the residents get to stay in their homes, which will be improved in accordance with the “revitalization” part of the plan. Under the terms of the settlement, the town will build 44 homes over the next five years, with 20 of them going to current residents who want to stay in Mount Holly Gardens. What’s more, 10 will be single-story homes with various bedroom configurations, making them ideal for residents who want to “age in place.” Those who want to leave will get relocation allowances.
The upshot? Better living conditions — on the town’s dime. “We are delighted with the outcome,” says Susan Silverstein, an AARP Foundation Litigation attorney who worked on the case, “because it ensures that the older residents will be able to remain in their community as they age in safe and well-designed homes.”
On the legal side, it’s a big win, too, because both the residents who were at risk of being displaced and the town ended up with a resolution that met their needs.
That’s how the legal system is supposed to work.
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