I find it fascinating that I have lived in Cherry Hill for my entire life, 21 years now, and it took a college education to show me the critical social injustice that my own town is and continues to be responsible for in New Jersey.
I calculated the injustice previously in my research, showing that Cherry Hill Township has 180 units of affordable housing available for poor families within the entire township, less than 1% of Camden County’s entire affordable housing total for low income families. This truth exists while Camden City has 76.8% of Camden County’s affordable family units. This information was obtained by calculating the data provided by the New Jersey Guide to Affordable Housing for Camden County, but those are simply the numbers.
An article published by philly.com on June 16th demonstrates the true emotional and ignorant intolerance that some Cherry Hill residents have towards allowing low income residents the opportunity to live in a place of prosperity. The article, written by Suzette Parmley, displays a somber looking elderly white man moping about the Woodcrest Country Club as if his own opportunity to a successful life is about to be taken from him by having the golf course turned into an apartment complex that would include 169 units of low income housing. The contrary is the reality in this situation. Mr. Cohen, who is 69 years old, and the hundreds of families who have spent tens of thousands of dollars to block any sort of COAH mandated housing development in Cherry Hill are responsible for keeping low income families confined to only live in a select few municipalities in Camden County simply due to the location of these family units. Therefore, because of the locations of businesses and job opportunities, blocking these affordable family units in Cherry Hill is a direct sentence to remain of low income status.
The reoccurring suburban battle cry has been sounded; “Not in my backyard!”. Well, for my fellow Cherry Hill residents, at least you have a backyard. We have created a living culture in Camden County that continuously prevents low income children from learning in diverse and safe environments, therefore continuously yielding low tests scores and high school dropouts. The research by Dr. Doug Massey, found in his book “Climbing Mt. Laurel”, shows that low income children are much more likely to rise above the poverty line while they are able to grow up in thriving communities, rather than a poverty stricken city. Children and families of low income who might have the chance to live in these new units in Cherry Hill would have much better access to public transportation and to a more successful job market that already exists in the township.
It seems like my Cherry Hill neighbors are much more comfortable to allow all New Jersey tax payers to continuously pay more in state property and income taxes due to the rising amount of people who are forced to rely on public assistance programs such as food stamps, emergency room healthcare, and housing, rather than lose their backyard’s view of an empty golf course which in turn would give hundreds of families and children the opportunity to one day rise above the poverty threshold in a safe community.
I will agree with my Cherry Hill neighbors that such developments should not be built in the blink of an eye. Infrastructure needs to be taken into account so that flooding or sewage issues do not worsen. However, I do invite them to visit Camden during any rainstorm if they’d like to see flooding and raw sewage issues of epic proportions. That is a constant reality that low income families must endure while simultaneously being unable to purchase fresh foods or drink clean water. Cherry Hill residents have the luxury of purchasing fresh foods from either Wegmans, Whole Foods, ShopRite, Acme, Wawa, The Asian Food Market, and several corner placitas that sell fruits and vegetables. Cherry Hill’s water also does not contain chromium. Camden residents predominately rely on sugar and fried food vendors and soup kitchens for their meals simply because those are the only food sources available.
To end this article, I’d like to apologize to the children and families who currently live in places of food scarcity, high crime, and poor infrastructure, because I am not the stereotypical Cherry Hill resident. I do not have tens of thousands of dollars to fight on your behalf to have these developments built. I wish that wasn’t even necessary, and in turn, I wish I could purchase tens of thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and meats. I want my town to be more accepting to those who simply need better access to the basic building blocks of life, like a grocery store, street lights, mass transit stops, and clean water. I want my town to no longer be so uninviting to low income families simply because their potential new homes of opportunity might scorn the view that their kitchen windows currently display. To me, that is just pompous, and it is exactly what Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant, mentioned in his commencement speech at Rutgers-Camden. “The city [of Camden] burned down because another generation couldn’t figure out how to get along”, he said in his closing remarks. And I say on behalf of my generation, that people of all economic backgrounds are welcome to have a chance to live in Cherry Hill.