U.S. court hears arguments in Mt. Holly housing case

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Thursday in a case about redevelopment of a neighborhood in New Jersey.

The demolition of hundreds of homes in the Gardens neighborhood of Mount Holly is nearly complete. New townhouses, apartments and commercial space are planned for the area.

Those residents who still remain in their Gardens neighborhood homes are suing Mount Holly Township. Seventy five percent are minorities, and they say they have been disproportionately affected by the redevelopment project. They argue their civil, housing and constitutional rights were violated.

Township attorney James Maley says if the court rules against the project, it will have wide-ranging consequences for redeveloping blighted neighborhoods throughout the country.

“Redevelopment is recognized in New Jersey as being a very noble, necessary pursuit. So this will put a restriction on those efforts,” said Maley. “Where everybody would agree that’s a ghetto, and it’s a bad neighborhood, you would not be able to do anything if it happened to be more minorities living in there than not.”

Nancy Lopez, who has lived in the Gardens for 25 years, said what housing the project does offer isn’t affordable enough.

“All of us thought we were going to be able to live out our years comfortably, now we might have to start all over again,” said Lopez. “They’re going to have to do something to get me out of there because I’m not going down without a fight.”

Olga Pomar, the residents’ lawyer from South Jersey Legal Services, said a ruling in their favor would send a strong message to municipalities.

“They do not have the total unfettered discretion to conduct redevelopment any way they want once a neighborhood is declared blighted,” said Pomar. “What we’ve been hoping to prove through this case is that to get rid of blight, you do not need to get rid of the people who are living in the blighted conditions.”

A decision by the court is expected in a few months.

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