By Ron Leir
It’s taken more than two years to get to this point, but now, finally, the Hudson County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity International is ready to begin assembling its first Kearny dwelling.
So it would appear, at least, from the posse of ceremonial shovel-shifters who descended on the edge of a 25-foot-wide by 175-foot long dirt lot at 41 Kearny Ave. under a broiling sun for a photo op last Thursday, May 30.
When the few spadefuls of dirt had been turned and speeches made, it remained for chapter co-directors Tom Bruning and Greg Strid to outline what’s ahead, now that the former Hudson County TB clinic that has stood empty on the site for many years is just a memory now.
The county had, essentially, deeded over the property for a token $1 on the condition that Habitat – a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry advocating for “decent, safe and affordable” housing – would commit to building such a residence on the site.
After lining up financing for the project, eliminating a proposed ground-floor retail space, and getting local Planning Board approvals, Habitat, acting as its own general contractor, engaged a construction manager, Dave Tillou, of Foran & Associates, of Pittstown, to oversee demolition of the old clinic and to erect the new structure.
A Google search yielded scant background on Tillou, who, while previously working under the company name Design Enterprise, was involved with a $1 million construction project at the Hunterdon County Poly-Tech School in Flemington in 2006 and, more recently, was construction manager at a multi-year project at Franklin Township School in Quakertown through 2011.
Although Habitat typically solicits the future occupants of the homes it builds and others to donate their labor, Bruning said: “We have contractors doing the heavy lifting.” Volunteers won’t be invited onto the site “until there are functional stairs” in place, he said.
Volunteers, who will be recruited from the Kearny community, will be assigned jobs, with supervision by professionals, “that will meet your skill set and comfort level,” he added.
To further explain the process to the public and make applications available, Habitat will hold two open houses: June 15, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave.; and June 22, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, 663 Kearny Ave.
Habitat is starting small in Kearny: Plans call for a three-story building, with a single two-bedroom, ADA-compliant apartment on the first floor, a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor and another three-bedroom unit on the top floor.
The apartments would be sold as condominiums. Prices have yet to be set but the buyers would get an interest-free mortgage loan, payable over 30 years. If the buyer defaults, the apartment reverts back to Habitat.
“With Habitat projects state-wide, our default rate has been less than 5%,” Bruning said. Habitat lends support to buyers by providing classes in financial planning.
Owners will have to pay real estate taxes, a condominium fee and a utility bill. There is no room for on-site parking.
To qualify, applicants must have lived in Hudson County for at least a year, must satisfy certain household income guidelines and must meet a minimum credit score.
“We haven’t decided what [selection] criteria to use if we get more than three families who qualify for the apartments,” Bruning said. “We’d likely hold a public lottery of some kind.”
Kearny Federal Savings is fronting Habitat for the project which, Habitat figures, should run just over $400,000, factoring in demolition, professional fees and administrative costs.
Tearing down the old clinic took about two weeks, due partly to a stretch of bad weather and because it had been taken apart in pieces so as to avoid damaging the two neighboring properties. Three trees abutting the southern property were replaced with a new white picket fence.
Habitat hopes to finish construction by mid-September.
Mayor Alberto Santos thanked Habitat Hudson Chapter President Bridget Hamill and other project participants for their efforts. He recalled that “several years ago” Habitat approached the town with the idea of building affordable housing in Kearny.
“It was an idea I fully supported and, with the cooperation of county and local officials, including County Executive Tom DeGise, Susan Mearns, who heads the County Office of Housing and Community Development, Freeholder Al Cifelli and the Kearny Town Council, this old, unused property, that years ago was a TB chest clinic, will soon become affordable condominiums for families who will be the owners of those new units. I look forward to working with the families who will eventually live at 41 Kearny Ave. as they contribute their ‘sweat equity’ to building their new homes.”
Since the Hudson Chapter was formed in 2004, it has completed two single family homes on Ocean Ave. in Jersey City’s Greenville section, facilitated by the donation of land from Jersey City, private donations, volunteer labor and 400 hours of sweat equity from each of the partner families.
This summer, the Hudson Chapter, under the leadership of co-director Greg Strid, will implement “Habitat Helping Hands,” undertaking several “moderate-scale” projects to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy.