By Ron Leir
Close to 150 folks have entered a special lottery which – if they’re winners – will, literally, change their lives.
They’re in the running for 15 one-room apartments at the Harrison Senior Residence, what’s been billed as the town’s “first affordable senior citizen apartment building.”
A certificate of occupancy for the three-story building at 774 Harrison Ave. was issued by the town’s Construction Code unit last Tuesday, said John Westervelt, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark and president of the Domus, its housing construction arm and sponsor of the Harrison structure.
The modular apartment project was built by Del-Sano Contracting of Union and was financed by $3.7 million in government funding: $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant/Sandy Disaster Recovery Program, $1.4 million from the Hudson County Home Investment Partnership Program and $509,000 from the Harrison Affordable Trust Fund.
To enter the lottery, prospective tenants had to be age 62 or older and meet federal household income limits set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
People who have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help after being displaced by Superstorm Sandy are to be given priority.
Last week, each application form was placed in a large cardboard box and Westervelt, Mayor James Fife, Councilman/Harrison Housing Authority Chairman Larry Bennett and Dan Ritchey Jr., vice president of R.P. Marzulli Co., the Bloomfield real estate firm picked by Domus to manage the Harrison property, took turns drawing the forms and reading the applicants’ names aloud as dozens of applicants and others watched and listened from their seats in the second-floor assembly chambers at Harrison Town Hall.
“Welcome to, hopefully, what will be the first of many lotteries like this in the future,” Fife told the expectant crowd. The mayor has said previously that officials are reviewing several prospective sites that could possibly be developed as additional affordable apartments for seniors living on fixed incomes.
And Westervelt – noting that the Harrison building is the 12th project that Domus has developed in New Jersey (including a larger one in Kearny) – said that he looked forward to building more if HUD continued to provide funding.
Each applicant was given a number corresponding to the order in which the form was picked. The first 15 applicants to be successfully screened as eligible for tenancies will be accorded the right to the 15 apartments, Westervelt said.
“Don’t get discouraged if your number is 25 [or higher],” Westervelt told the crowd, explaining that it’s possible that people higher up on the list of the draw could be eliminated from consideration if they don’t meet the eligibility criteria.
Westervelt said his staff would shortly begin calling in the first 15 applicants for vetting interviews and continue the process until the final selections for the 15 apartments are made.
He said the goal is “to start moving people in as soon as possible, maybe by mid-December.”
Westervelt gave The Observer a tour of the building last week. Aside from some “punchlist’’ items, such as painting of outdoor railings at the front entrance, installation of glass panes in the front doors and plastic covers to fill gaps between the ground floor and a crawl-space basement, a utility hookup and placement of its numerical address on the front, the building looked pretty much ready for its first-ever occupants.