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United Way Housing Alliance Proves Affordable Housing is Possible in a Challenging Economy

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One year ago, towns across New Jersey were put on notice that millions of dollars they had collected locally for affordable housing projects were at risk of being recouped by the state.

In Morris County, nearly $22 million in Municipal Housing Trust Funds – money collected from developers for affordable housing – was in jeopardy.

The United Way of Northern New Jersey Housing Alliance jumped into action, raising awareness across the region and encouraging local officials to make sure their funds were put to use to address local housing needs.

The hard work is paying off as several towns have sought out our members’ advice.  Today, the result is that $7.8 million of those at-risk funds are staying local and being leveraged to bring in even more government and private funding for a significant economic impact.  More than half-a-dozen affordable housing projects are currently at various stages of development in 10 Morris County towns.

Lincoln Park is one of several towns that is using some of its local funds to work with Alliance member NewBridge Services, Inc. and Advancing Opportunities, Inc. to renovate a home for people with developmental disabilities.  Likewise, Parsippany is collaborating with NewBridge, fellow Alliance member The Rose House, and Advancing Opportunities, Inc. to develop four homes and six independent living apartments for people with disabilities.  The renovated Parsippany homes should have move-in days this summer!

For just these two projects, the two towns have committed $1.9 million from their trust funds.  This allowed them to leverage another $2.1 million for a total investment locally of $4 million to create affordable housing in their communities.

“These local officials are to be applauded for recognizing that creating affordable housing helps to bring jobs and economic stimulus to our communities,” said Robert Parker, chief executive officer at NewBridge Services.

Likewise, Chester Borough is working with Alliance member Homeless Solutions, Inc. to convert the former Borough Hall site into eight affordable, environmentally-friendly rental units for families.  The Borough is providing $578,000 from its trust fund to support the project.

“This is a great smart-growth project and exemplifies the creative ways to add affordable housing to a community,” said Dan McGuire, director of headquarters development at Homeless Solutions.  “We are using an existing site, putting affordable units in an area where retail, recreation, and other amenities are all within walking distance.”

Mount Olive is also partnering with Homeless Solutions, providing nearly $1 million from the township’s trust fund to acquire and demolish a vacant, dilapidated former nursing home (see photo).  It will be replaced with 20 affordable, “green” rental units.

Next year, Alliance member Morris Habitat for Humanity will be breaking ground in Denville on six, two-bedroom homes with the help of $243,000 from that town’s trust fund. Habitat has contracts to build in Jefferson, Parsippany, Randolph, Roxbury, and Mount Olive, making use of a total of $3.3 million of trust fund money from those towns. 

In addition, Habitat and fellow Alliance member Madison Affordable Housing Corporation teamed up on three, three-bedroom single family homes in Madison with the help of $487,000 from the borough’s trust fund.

Habitat is also partnering with Alliance member Community Hope in Chester Township, where $140,000 has been committed to housing for veterans. In neighboring Chester Borough, Community Hope has a separate agreement to use $150,000 of trust funds to develop a two-family home that can accommodate four individuals with disabilities.

“These towns and our Alliance members are showing that despite difficult times, it is more than possible to build affordable housing that enhances and strengthens our communities,” said Jodi Miciak, co-chair of the United Way Housing Alliance.  “These examples should serve as a model to towns across the state that smart, affordable housing can happen.”

Typically, New Jersey is considered in the top five most expensive states for renters.  In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in our region, Fair Market Rates range from a high of $1,420 to $1,078, according to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.  At the higher end of the range, a family must earn approximately $57,000 annually.  That means a worker earning the minimum wage must log 151 hours per week year round!

United Way research shows that costly housing puts an undue burden on the budgets of working families in New Jersey.  In each of the five northern New Jersey counties served by United Way, close to half of all households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Stepping up to the challenge

“It’s clear the need is great,” Miciak said. “There is potentially millions more in funding waiting to be put to good use creating affordable housing that keeps our local communities strong and vibrant.”

If your town still has trust funds available, Alliance members want to work with you!

For questions or more information, email Jodi Miciak or call 973.993.1160, x135.

Click here to learn more about United Way’s work to provide Housing for All.

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