Habitat for Humanity back in action in Kearny

Photo by Ron Leir
This building at 41 Kearny Ave. will be torn down to clear the way for four new apartments.


Photo by Ron Leir
Discussing plans for Kearny’s fi rst Habitat for Humanity project, from l., are Greg Strid, Hudson Habitat co-director; Georgeanna McDonough, Habitat board member; Tom Bruning, Habitat co-director; and Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, Optimist Club president.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Dormant for more than a year, Kearny’s first Habitat for Humanity- sponsored project is back on the drawing board. So said Tom Bruning and Greg Strid, newly named co-executive directors of Habitat’s Hudson County chapter, at a recent meeting of the local Optimist Club. Bruning, a Habitat board member for six years, and Strid, an accountant who handled marketing efforts for nonprofits before becoming a Habitat trustee last year, took over for former Hudson Habitat director Santos Murillo (and Kearny resident) after his resignation some months ago. Bruning said that Habitat is in the process of completing architectural drawings for the project site at 41 Kearny Ave., a onetime county TB clinic, for submission to the town’s construction department. The county has donated the property to Kearny. At the same time, he said, the nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing ministry is finalizing a contract for construction management with Dave Tillou of Design Enterprises, of Matawan. The contractor would tear down the existing structure and build a four-unit condominium residence. Bruning said the county’s Community Housing Development Organization is funding the $350,000 mortgage on the new building. “We own the mortgage but often, we’ll sell it to a bank and they’ll administer it and that gives us leverage to grow,” he said. Because such loans typically don’t cover the entire cost of construction, Habitat looks for donations to fill that gap. “This is the first project we’ve done in partnership with (the county entity) and they want us to get it built as soon as possible, using as much community support as possible,” Bruning said. Title to each apartment will pass to the occupants once the no-interest loan is paid off by the individual buyers. Prospective purchasers must meet certain conditions: Household income has to be less than 80 percent of the regional median family income level as fixed by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development; the apartment must serve as the occupants’ primary residence; the buyers must have a good credit rating; and the apartment buyers must provide volunteer service to Habitat during construction. Buyers will get finance training from Habitat counselors to help orient them to their fiscal responsibilities in paying off the loan. Habitat records show that the organization’s clients have a “much higher percentage than the general population in paying off (home mortgage) loans,” Bruning said. A lottery procedure will likely be used to help select the buyers who, under HUD regulations, will be limited to Hudson County residents. Habitat will be scheduling a series of community meetings in the next three to five months to outline more precise details about the project and to explain what resources the group will be seeking from community volunteers ages 18 and above. As Strid reminded the Optimist Club members, “Habitat is all about building partnerships, using available land and sweat equity” to rally folks around quality affordable housing projects. Through participation of the future owners in the construction process, “we bring dignity, pride and increased job prospects” to those individuals, he said. After a contractor puts a foundation in place, Habitat will be looking for volunteers to help with jobs like painting, spackling, light electrical work and planting flowers. Once permits are secured, the group hopes to begin demolition of the existing building in a couple of months and get much of the exterior work done before the onset of winter so the project can, hopefully, be completed by next spring. “If this is successful,” Bruning said, “we’re planning to build in additional places in Kearny and Hudson County.”

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