By Ron Leir
After six years of start/ stop planning, the Harrison Senior Residence at 774 Harrison Ave. is finally open, with seven of its 15 apartments rented and two occupied so far.
But the selection process for the remaining units at the town’s first “affordable senior building” is continuing and the Domus Corp., the developer, is still accepting applications for the 650 square feet one-bedroom units, according to Daniel Ritchey Jr. of Marzulli Real Estate, which manages the Harrison site.
Applicants must be age 62 or older and meet federal housing income guidelines to be considered, he said.
For an application or for more information, people are asked to call the Kearny Senior Residence, another Domus property on Schuyler Ave., at 201-991-0054.
Of the 10 residential projects Domus (an arm of Catholic Charities of Newark) has built in Hudson, Essex, Bergen and Union counties, the one in Harrison “has been the most difficult” of all to process, Domus President John Westervelt said.
While assembly and configuration of the modular units went quite smoothly under Del-Sano Contracting Corp. of Union, it was the tenant selection protocol that proved problematic for the developer.
As it has done before with prior projects, Domus devised a lottery, with prospective tenants’ applications to be screened in the order by which they were randomly drawn, as the method to be used for picking the “winners.”
That is how they ended up with the pool of 164 applicants, who, because a chunk of federal aid was included in the $3.7 million funding mix for the project, could not be limited solely to Harrison residents.
It turned out that many of the applications had to be rejected, either because members of the same family submitted multiple filings or because applicants did not have enough income to qualify, according to Ritchey and Westervelt.
Of the 15 apartments available, 12 will rent for $705 per month while three will go for $560, Ritchey said. Utilities are extra.
A household of up to two people must have an annual income of at least $21,150 and can earn no more than $31,650 to be eligible for a Domus apartment in Harrison.
For the three cheaper apartments, the regulatory agreement covering the Harrison site says that a tenant’s household income cannot exceed 50% of the region’s median income, which comes out to $26,350, and, at the same time, the monthly rent cannot exceed 30% of a tenant’s household income.
Ritchey said that because some applicants are just missing the income cutoffs by maybe $1,000 or so, Domus is exploring with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development the possibility of relaxing those limits a bit to allow some borderline cases to qualify.
Given that element of uncertainty, Domus is extending the application period, he said. No cutoff date was given.
In the meantime, those cleared to move in will do so.
Gonzalo Cruz Molina and his wife Solaida, who previously lived in a Grant Ave. apartment in Harrison, have the distinction of being the first occupants. They moved into a second-floor apartment in February.
“I’m not able to climb stairs because of my leg condition,” said Solaida. “And we tried to find an affordable apartment.” Harrison Senior Residence, with its reasonable rent and an elevator, is a welcome find for the couple.
When The Observer visited the building last week, the Molinas were babysitting their 2-yearold granddaughter Briar Rose.
Their second-floor neighbor is Patti Dec, who was getting her new furniture delivered when a reporter visited with her. Dec, who got word about her selection in mid-March, spent the past 25 years in a walk-up apartment building on N. Third St. in Harrison.
“I was number 80 on the list,” she said. “I never thought I’d get in.”
But she did and she couldn’t be happier. “With my rheumatoid arthritis, I needed an elevator. Before, it was too much walking up two floors carrying groceries and what not.”
Dec retired a year and a half ago after having put in 18 years in customer service with Tyden Brooks, a manufacturer of high security seals. Before that, she owned and operated a hairdresser’s shop on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. She’s been an active member of the Elks for 16 years.
Mayor James Fife, who visited the senior building last Wednesday with members of the Town Council, called it “a wonderful occasion and, I hope, the first of many more such projects.”
Asked if any were in the offing, Fife said the town was eyeing two potential sites on which to build senior apartments. “We’re looking for private financing to acquire them,” he said.
Westervelt, meanwhile, is hoping to see the Harrison Senior Residence fully occupied by June.
Incidentally, pets are allowed in the building, “but no more than 25 pounds,” said Fatima Blanco, executive manager for Marzulli Realty. “And there is a pet security deposit required.”