John Cary of Cedar Knolls said his vision of affordable housing was high-rise apartments.
That’s why Thursday's affordable housing bus tour—staged by the Morris County Housing Alliance, an affiliate of the United Way of Northern New Jersey—was such an eye-opener, he said.
The tour displayed not large public housing complexes, but small complexes of maybe a dozen units, or smaller homes featuring just two units. The homes were built to the newest energy efficiency standards. Many were built on neglected lots; others replaced damaged homes. and they all offer Morris County residents with modest incomes a chance to rent or own homes or apartments.
“Affordable housing is revitalizing neighborhoods,” said Tonya Van Orden, deputy director of the Madison Housing Authority and Madison Affordable Housing Corp., which helped develop a duplex on Rowe Street and another on George Street.
The replacement of a damaged house or disused lot with an affordable home often spurs neighbors to replace siding, paint their homes or clean up their lots, she said.
“They don’t want to have their home look worse that the affordable home,” she said.
Cary said he was impressed by the solar panel array at the 12-unit Abbett Avenue Apartments in Morristown built by Homeless Solutions. The array demonstrated the sustainability and affordability of the units.
Cary was one of the 30 people on the tour from the latest class of Leadership Morris, a program sponsored by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce that introduces members of the county’s corporate community to public issues and life.
The tour visited two affordable homes in Morristown and the newly opened Rose House Community Residence in Hanover. The highlighted homes displayed the variety of affordable housing being built in the county, and the diversity of need. The homes provide a place to live for a mix of lower-income individuals and families, and for people with development disabilities.
Betty Garger, the chief operating officer for the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey, on the tour as a member of Leadership Morris, said she was pleased to see that the affordable housing effort included the Rose House project for developmentally disabled persons.
Overall, she said, she was not aware of the effort to build affordable housing in the county. But she aware of the of the United Way’s ALICE study, which that showed 28 percent of Morris County residents do not earn enough to be self-sufficient.
The two-year-old study—ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—showed that 23 percent of Morris County’s population earned between $20,000 for an individual and $60,000 for a family of four. In all, 49,569 of the total 176,084 Morris households do not earn enough to be self-sustaining.
“ALICE is a man, woman, brother or neighbor,” Michelle Roers, chief professional officer of the Morris office of the United Way of Northern New Jersey, said. The people earning salaries in the range identified by the ALICE report live in all neighborhoods, and often work jobs like those available at local stories, in local libraries or in local government.
If they can not afford to live in Morris County, they seek housing in other places, she said. And when they do that, they take their buying power with them.
But many of these workers need to live near their jobs, she said.
“A bank teller or home health aide can not telecommute,” Roers said.
Building affordable housing keeps essential workers living close to their jobs and supports local stores and the local economy, Roers said.
The homes visited Thursday:
- The Rose House Community Residence opened in June provided living space for 12 developmentally disabled persons who live independently. Rose House executive director Mark Kramer said the home was a joint effort of his agency and NewBridge Services of Pequannock, with financial assistance from the United Way, Hanover Township, and state and federal funding. The residents work in outside jobs or are in training. They travel by themselves, shop, and do all the things that renters do, Kramer said. “They have created a community,” he said.
- The Abbett Avenue Apartments replaced “a Frankenstein building,” said Dan McGuire of Homeless Solutions. The 12 rental units are energy efficient, and the project was given a 2008 Smart Growth Award from NJ Future.The residents are able to walk to work, shops and public transportation, he said. It was one of two redevelopment projects on Abbett Avenue by Homeless Solutions.
- Morris Habitat for Humanity build an affordable duplex on Rowe Street in Morristown in partnership with 17 area church congregations, said executive director Blair Bravo. Habitat collaborated with the Madison Affordable Housing Corp. and Morristown’s to build the Energy Star-rated building. Two families were chosen from 150 applicants, Bravo said. In 25 years, she said, Morris Habitat has had only two individuals move, both of whom retired and left New Jersey. Habitat acts as the bank in these projects, and offers a zero percent, 30-year mortgage. The owners are expected to contribute 300 hours of labor and attend homeownership classes and start a savings program.