By Ron Leir
Finally, after nearly five years of scrambling and in-fighting, all systems are go for Harrison’s long proposed affordable senior housing project for people age 62 and older.
The Domus Corp., the nonprofit housing arm of the Catholic Charities of Newark, is preparing for a fall groundbreaking for the 15-unit building that will rise at 774 Harrison Ave., just off Schuyler Ave. and adjacent to the Harrison Gardens public housing complex.
Catholic Charities CEO/Domus President John Westervelt said he expected that Domus would close on the approximately 40-by-100 square foot property sometime this month and start construction by late October.
Del-Sano Contracting Co. of Union will undertake the project, Westervelt said. Del-Sano has previously worked on several previous Domus jobs, including a 49-unit affordable senior residence in Kearny in 2005 and, more recently, a 49- unit project in Dumont. The breakthrough for the Harrison project came with the recent announcement that Domus had been approved for $1.8 million in CDBG Disaster Recovery funds via the N.J. Housing Mortgage & Finance Agency. Two previously filed applications had misfired.
That award, Westervelt said, will supplement a prior commitment of $1.4 million in Hudson County HOME funds and $509,000 from Harrison’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for a total of $3.7 million to finance the development. “The building will be finished by fall 2014 and tenants will move in by the end of 2014 or early 2015,” Westervelt said.
Plans call for 15 one-bedroom, 600 square foot apartments, with one of those apartments to be reserved for an on-site superintendent, he said.
Eligibility for these units will be driven by federal AMI (Area Median Income) levels for the northeast region.
According to information furnished by The Metro Company, a Jersey City-based financial consultant to Domus, the gross monthly rent for three apartments will be calculated at 47.5% of AMI or $687 minus a utility allowance of $127 for a net rent of $560; the rent for each of the remaining 12 units will be set at 57.5% of AMI or $832 minus the same utility allowance for a net rent of $705.
The lower rents are a requirement of the county’s HOME funds program, Metro reported.
When the Harrison governing body voted last year to award the nonprofit a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), Domus projected it would collect about $107,000 in annual revenues. It will pay the town about $6,800 a year; after 15 years, that amount will be adjusted upward.
Westervelt said Domus will get the word out about the new apartments with advertisements “in local and regional newspapers, as well as local senior centers and service providers” and with a notice to be posted on the state’s Housing Resource Center Website.
A lottery will be used to make final selections of tenants for the apartments, Westervelt said.
Domus entered the picture about a year and a half ago as the successor to another nonprofit, New Town Development Corp., which Harrison had originally designated to do the project back in 2009.
The town provided $200,000, combined with $500,000 from the Hudson County Economic Development Corp., to acquire the Harrison Ave. parcel, demolish a small residential building on the site and hire an architect to draft plans for the new senior facility. It ended up donating the property to Domus for $1.
But New Town fell on hard times in 2011 after its volunteer director, Michael Rodgers, was fired from his paid job as executive director of the Harrison Housing Authority. Rodgers subsequently sued the HHA and the town, claiming he was punished for disciplining a relative of the mayor.
So when New Town sought the town’s endorsement to apply for HMFA funding in support of the senior project, it didn’t get it. Domus did.
Eventually, Rodgers agreed to a settlement of his litigation with the HHA and the town but terms of the settlement – which reportedly involved a substantial payout to Rodgers – weren’t disclosed.