By Ron Leir
Some five years after the project was conceived, Harrison’s first affordable senior citizen building had its ceremonial groundbreaking last Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 774 Harrison Ave., just west of the Harrison Gardens public housing complex.
The 15-unit Harrison Senior Residence, with one unit reserved for an on-site superintendent, is being developed by the Domus Corp., a nonprofit arm of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, at a cost projected at $3.8 million.
A press release issued Dec. 3 by the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency said the agency has “committed $1.8 million in CDGB [Community Development Block Grant] Disaster Recovery” awarded through the “Fund for Restoration of Multifamily Rental Housing.”
The FRM, according to the agency, “provides funding to restore affordable rental housing in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy [to] aid in the … construction of multifamily rental housing for low-and moderate-income residents [and] will be available … in conjunction with other multifamily programs offered by the state….”
The FRM, the release said, offers non-profit housing developers – like Domus – opportunities to secure zero and low-interest loans to pay for construction of affordable housing, primarily in those counties impacted by Sandy.
Domus is combining the FRM funding with nearly $1.5 million from the Hudson County HOME Investment Partnership Program and more than $500,000 from the Town of Harrison’s Affordable Trust Fund to finance the Harrison project, the release said.
At the groundbreaking, Harrison Mayor Ray McDonough said that the need for low cost housing is easily the biggest priority of those who visit his office at Town Hall. “They want to know, ‘Can I get into the [Harrison] Gardens or Kingsland Court apartments?’’’ Both apartment complexes, run by the Harrison Housing Authority, continue to be fully occupied, with lengthy waiting lists, and the HHA has declined to accept new applications.
Still, McDonough said, “I’m hoping that with all the developers in town, we’ll get more of these buildings.”
Others on hand for the ceremony were HMFA Executive Director Anthony Marchetta, who said his agency was happy to be serving as the “affordable housing bank for New Jersey,” with 2013 “being one of our banner years,” as a result of the federal government funneling Sandy relief cash into the state; and Hudson County Executive Tom Degise, who said the county was proud to partner with Domus and Harrison in helping bring the project to fruition.
“The whole face of Harrison is changing,” Degise said. “We pledge to be partners in future projects.”
The Rev. James Tortora, chaplain for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark, blessed the project site grounds and offered a prayer for the mission’s success.
Catholic Charities CEO/ Domus President John Westervelt said the Harrison building would be the 10th such project to be developed by Domus in Hudson, Essex, Bergen and Union counties. A total of 419 apartments have been built since 1995, and an additional 95 units are in the pipeline, he said.
The Harrison building will be four floors; the first level will have three apartments plus common space, there will be four units on each of the upper stories, and the building will be equipped with an elevator, he said.
Westervelt said Domus will use Del-Sano Contracting Corp. of Union as its general contractor. “They’ve built seven previous projects for us,” he said.
This month, Del-Sano also completed an $18.7 million, 52-unit, six-story low-income family residence, Horizon Heights, on 49th Street in Union City for Regan Development Corp.
In Harrison, Del-Sano will be installing modular units atop concrete footings, Westervelt said. A modular strategy was chosen, Westervelt said, “because of the tight [40 feet wide by 100 feet deep] space” of the project site. “The units will be brought in by truck from the manufacturer in Pennsylvania,” he said.
According to the HMFA release, three of the 15 apartments are earmarked for “very low income residents with net rents at $560 a month” while “the remaining 12 units are for moderate-income residents with net rents at $560 a month.”
In any event, Westervelt said, tenants will pay no more than 30% of their adjusted gross income for rent.
Each apartment will contain 650 square feet of air-conditioned living space, which will include a kitchen with range and refrigerator, combination living/dining room, bedroom and ADA-complaint bathroom.
Tenants will have access to two laundry rooms and a 1,600 square foot community room plus garbage/recycling centers on each floor. There will also be a medical screening room, plus job training and job placement services, the HMFA said.
Once a building permit is secured, Westervelt said the project should take eight months to complete and tenants should be moving in by fall 2014.
“About 60 days prior to the certificate of occupancy being issued, we will send letters to community newspapers advertising for occupants,” Westervelt said. Final selections will be made via a lottery system, he added. “We think that’s the fairest way to do it.”
Domus will pay the town about $6,800 a year under a PILOT (payment in lieu of tax) agreement approved by the town governing body last year.
Applicants must be age 62 or older and must meet federal AMI (Area Median Income) household income guidelines for the Northeast Region.
Zinnerford Smith, interim executive director of the Harrison Housing Authority (HHA), said he was “pleased to see that the town and its partners have come to terms in moving this project forward.”
That the project actually got to this point is a small triumph in and of itself since at times, internal politics threatened to capsize it in midstream due to feuding between McDonough and former HHA director Michael Rodgers, who advocated for the project as volunteer head of a nonprofit New Town arm of the HHA, but after he ended up being fired from his HHA job, the New Town initiative – which was to have sponsored the project – was cast adrift and Domus then entered the picture.