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Thoughts & Views

Don’t take away chance for residential relief

In a number of waterfront communities along this side of the Hudson River, there are signs that developers are beginning to make inroads in the residential marketplace.

Despite the continuation of an at-best sluggish economy, banks are evidently lending again to support the building of rental apartments, along with some retail and commercial space.

In Lyndhurst, for example, construction is proceeding apace with several hundred new rental units at Meadows Crossing; Kearny is awaiting the filing of revised plans for a smaller residential development on Schuyler Ave.; and Harrison has seen completion of 275 new apartments and breaking of ground for a new hotel near the PATH station, with other residential projects on the horizon.

And the Harrison governing body recently took steps to facilitate a tax abatement that will clear the way for a modest, 15-unit affordable senior citizen apartment building on Harrison Ave. being pitched by the Domus Corp., a nonprofit arm of Catholic Charities.

This project has been in the works for some time; Domus is still seeking a partial funding commitment from the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, although Harrison is counting on tapping its Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help finance the project.

It doesn’t take a demographics expert to know that there are plenty of poor and socalled middle class folks in our densely packed corridor struggling to put food on the table and pay for living quarters for their families. The state’s jobless rate is still hovering close to 10%.

Harrison Mayor Ray Mc- Donough is the first to admit that the question most frequently put to him by residents is: “Can I get an apartment in public housing?”

To which, he says, he must reluctantly answer: “No,” since there is – and continues to be – a 100% occupancy rate among the town’s several hundred public housing apartments.

Interim Harrison Housing Authority Executive Director Zinnerford Smith has frozen applications for public housing apartments, given that the existing waiting list is already too big and that there are no plans for additional public housing units for the general population. Smith would, of course, like to see the town build more apartments but he may as well be asking for the moon.

Once upon a time, New Jersey – thanks to a 1983 State Supreme Court ruling stemming from a Mount Laurel zoning case – had a policy that obliged municipalities to adopt regulations that required developers to either include a certain percentage of “affordable housing” for lowand moderate-income families as part of their projects or to provide contributions to a municipal affordable housing trust fund for future “affordable” units.

Now, however, Gov. Chris Christie is looking to emasculate that policy – and the mandate set by the court – by doing away with the state Council on affordable housing, the enforcer of New Jersey’s Fair Housing Act, and subsuming its functions under gubernatorial control.

In the meantime, municipalities – faced with a potentially lame-duck state enforcer – have been seemingly left to their own devices in pondering how to deal with the affordable housing issue.

But it would be wrong – and disastrous – for state and local leaders to abandon New Jersey’s working poor and middle class remnants at a time when so many, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, are seeking some form of stability in a world threatening to consume them in debt and uncertainty.

– Ron Leir

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