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Putting a Price on NIMBYism

A new Housing Policy Debate paper explores a deeply controversial idea: a cap-and-trade system for building affordable housing. Some New Jersey lawmakers want to give it a try.
Some New Jersey Republicans want to restore a cap-and-trade system that shuttled low-income housing from suburbs to cities such as Newark.
Some New Jersey Republicans want to restore a cap-and-trade system that shuttled low-income housing from suburbs to cities such as Newark.Julio Cortez/AP

In 1985, New Jersey launched an innovative experiment in social science and housing segregation. It failed—spectacularly, if slowly. But now Garden State Republicans and lefty California academics are giving the idea behind that experiment another look.

Two state supreme court decisions forced New Jersey’s hand. Known as the Mount Laurel Doctrine, the 1975 and 1983 decisions represent an important plank of civil rights law today. The court ruled that local governments cannot use class as a proxy to establish racially exclusionary zoning. Moreover, the rulings require local authorities to affirmatively promote the opportunity for building low-income housing through zoning.