Starting to look like a house

Photo courtesy David Banks Framing has begun for Habitat’s Kearny project.

Photo courtesy David Banks
Framing has begun for Habitat’s Kearny project.

KEARNY –

Habitat for Humanity is back on its feet and rising to the occasion in Kearny.

Revitalized by a new management team, the nonprofit organization has rededicated itself to an expedited completion of a three-story, three-family structure at 41 Kearny Ave. by this summer.

Indeed, a visit to the site last week revealed that footings for the building’s stairwells had been completed and that partial wood framing was in place and progressing.

At a Town Council meeting earlier this month, Mayor Alberto Santos happily announced that Habitat “has reorganized, with a new [executive] director and board members … and they are hoping to have the building open and occupied by the end of July.”

That forecast was later affirmed to The Observer by David Banks, who became the new executive director of the Hudson County affiliate of Habitat in September 2014, and business consultant Kevin Timmons, its new board chairman. Previously, Timmons worked on Habitat’s Ocean Ave. residential project in Jersey City’s Greenville section.

Plans in Kearny still call for three condominium apartments, with the first-floor 2-bedroom unit to be disabled accessible, and the two 3-bedroom units above designed as duplexes, with the common area on the second floor and the bedrooms on the third floor.

Pricing for the three apartments won’t be set until the project’s full development cost is known, according to Timmons. Buyers will be responsible for paying off no interest mortgages to be issued by Kearny Bank, local real estate taxes, utilities and condo fees.

“We’re on track to complete the job by mid-July,” he said.

That should happen, Timmons and Banks said, with Habitat deploying Tom Grossi’s Montvale firm, MPC Construction, as general contractor, replacing Champion Construction of North Bergen, with oversight by Habitat trustee Joseph Sharples, who runs a local construction company, and cooperation from the Kearny Construction Office.

Another factor driving the project is the clock: Habitat is using income from mortgage fees from other projects to pay its contractor upfront for work as it’s completed but, as Timmons explains, it has until the end of July to finish the job to get $350,000 in anticipated reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) through the Hudson County HOME program.

“The federal grant has an official time-out date,” Timmons said, “but if we can show adequate progress, we probably can get an extension.”

On a separate tract, Habitat is preparing homeownership application forms for the Kearny project. In the past year or so, it has received about 60 inquiries from prospective buyers, Banks said.

No lottery will be used to help select the three families who will occupy the apartments, he said. After official applications are distributed and collected, “families will be screened and vetted to make sure they can afford a home,” he said.

Under the program rules, prospective buyers’ current housing situation “has to be sub-standard” and they must “go through a standard credit check,” Banks said. Additionally, buyers’ household income must be less than 80% of the regional median family income level as set by HUD.

For more information about the process, people can visit Habitat’s website – habitathudsoncounty.org – or call 201-991-0673.

Once the framing is in place and the building secured, then Habitat will begin bringing in community volunteers, typically, through local corporate sponsors and citizenry, to pitch in with painting and other chores.

A compressed construction schedule, combined with “safety concerns” arising from “the tightness of the lot not allowing much wriggle room,” weighed against the more extensive role normally played by volunteers at a typical Habitat site, Banks said.

As for the “sweat-equity” component required of the homebuyers, once the purchase contracts are signed, Banks said the designated buyers will be asked to participate in Habitat office work, fundraising and other activities.

The Kearny project has proceeded in fits and starts since plans were first announced in 2011 and a ceremonial groundbreaking was held in summer 2013 – which followed demolition of the long-vacant Hudson County TB screening clinic that previously stood on the site.

That property was donated by the county for a dollar to Kearny with the stipulation that Habitat would build a residential building there.

Now that the project appears to be finally nearing completion, Santos said, “I think [Habitat’s] going to get quite a few applicants. We’re pleased that the project is back on track.”

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.