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Group Touts Benefits Of Proposed Affordable Housing Reform For Urban Neighborhood Revitalization

NEWARK – A group of a dozen faith-based organizations, community development corporations (CDCs) and local development officials met on April 20th with State Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, in a roundtable discussion at the Renaissance Church in Newark to discuss the positive opportunities that Senate Bill S-1, which proposes to significantly reform the state’s affordable housing law, offers to not-for-profit developers in their efforts to revitalize neighborhoods. The meeting was hosted by Pastor Thomas Riddick, whose CDC is actively engaged in the development of affordable housing as part of a larger mission that includes prisoner re-entry, substance abuse services, after-school programs, job training and family counseling.

The group supports the overall concept of switching the planning responsibilities for affordable housing to the local level where, as local CDCs, they can have their voices heard more effectively.

“The bottom line is that this is a common sense approach aimed at helping groups like Renaissance get the resources needed to revitalize urban neighborhoods,” stated Pastor Reddick, who noted that developers who are simply forced to put up affordable units either walk away altogether or right after the units are built, neglecting the need to address the other social issues related to those who move into affordable housing. “We need to fix up the vacant buildings and build on the vacant buildings and build on the vacant lots in our neighborhoods, not just set aside a percentage of units as affordable in some downtown high rise that is disconnected from our neighborhoods and provides no services,” noted Reddick. “The former helps rebuild our community; the later just offers an escape for a chosen few.”

George Garcia, who served on Governor Christie’s transition team for the Department of Community Affairs this past December, and is an attorney for both for-profit market housing developers as well as not-for-profit affordable housing developers sees the bill as “one that will encourage experienced market rate developers to team up with local not-for-profits to undertake projects that will significantly create neighborhood environments that COAH fails to achieve.”

Senator Lesniak, the bill’s sponsor touted the “flexibility given to municipalities” that the bill will provide while ensuring the production of more affordable units sooner rather than later. “The bill allows preferences to local residents and employees when it comes to affordable housing which the current law does not. Local elected officials will embrace this concept to help their communities, rather than see COAH’s state-imposed mandates as an imposition on their communities. And not-for-profits can continue to serve the same folks they’ve been seeing and providing various needed social services.” Lesniak pointed out that the bill allows for off-site development of affordable units and rehab of uninhabitable housing, which along with municipal trust funds supplemented by in-lieu-of payments authorized by S-1 will promote community-based not-for-profit and faith-based housing initiatives that will reshape neighborhoods: “One needs only to drive through our city neighborhoods to understand the need our faith-based CDCs have for the resources to rehabilitate the existing housing stock and to create new affordable housing opportunities for residents and workers in the community,“ stated Lesniak.

June Jones of the Morris Canal CDC in Jersey City pointed out “where will low-income families find the support services such as affordable day care and access to affordable mass transit when they relocate to a COAH-mandated site?”

Other groups attending the event included Burwell Capital, PROCEED, Falcon Development Corp. and Urban Medical Behavioral Health Association (which is specializing in developing housing for female ex-offenders who are re-entering society and often in need of reconnecting with their children). Gloria Walton of UMBH pointed out that, “those who provide the services need to be proactively involved in creating the housing needed for their clients and this legislation provides several ways to promote that.” Representatives of the Development Offices of Jersey City, Newark and Elizabeth also attended and emphasized the need they had to identify new resources to fill funding gaps for neighborhood not-for-profit housing developments.

For any additional information you can contact Senator Lesniak’s office at (908) 624-0880 or Renaissance Church CDC at (973) 481-3431.

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