NJ Awards Over $5 Million to Build 26 Units of Affordable Housing in South Orange

by JESPY House
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From JESPY House:

The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) has awarded over $5 million in tax credits to fund the development of the South Orange Commons affordable housing project to be located at 41-45 West Third Street in downtown South Orange. The project, a partnership between JESPY House, the Township of South Orange Village, Bergen County’s United Way/Madeline Housing Partners, LLC, and Penwal Affordable Housing Corporation will provide affordable housing for low-income families and adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 

“When I heard the news I screamed for joy and started calling our partners. We have been working on this for years,” said South Orange Village President Sheena Collum. “This is our very first 100-percent affordable housing project in town and augments the long list of current redevelopment projects underway with mandatory affordable housing set-asides consistent with the Village’s Housing Element and Fair Share Plan. We also quintupled developer contributions into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund which enabled us to donate the land and parking to this project at no cost to our taxpayers.”

The South Orange Commons project arose because JESPY House clients advocated for South Orange to develop more affordable housing due to skyrocketing rents. JESPY House is a nonprofit organization that has helped adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to live independently in South Orange for more than 40 years. Clients live in South Orange, work locally, and shop and socialize in downtown businesses.

Playing the game of chess has been an integral part of JESPY clients learning strategy and camaraderie.

Dr. Ahadi Bugg-Levine, President of the JESPY House Board of Trustees stated: “This project began because JESPY clients advocated for more affordable housing. I am so proud of them and what they have accomplished. Joined by staff and allies, JESPY clients attended numerous South Orange Board of Trustee meetings to share how ever-increasing rents undermined their ability to achieve their independence goals. They discussed how some of their friends lost their homes, jobs, and friendships because they could not afford to stay in the community that they knew and loved. Village President Collum and our South Orange leadership heard us and worked hard to help create a solution.” 

South Orange Commons will contain 26 affordable apartment units. Sixteen units will be for adults with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities and 10 units will be designated for families. The South Orange Planning Board provided preliminary site plan approval for the project in August 2021. The site plan provides a mixture of one, two, and three-bedroom units. South Orange Commons will be fully accessible. It will have a laundry room on each floor, community room, roof terrace, and other amenities to help residents feel at home.

Audrey Winkler, Executive Director of JESPY House, emphasized how South Orange Commons will support the diversity of South Orange. She said: “The needs of people with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to a community’s housing options. However, that is not the case in South Orange.  JESPY clients are integrated in and contribute to our community. JESPY is fortunate to be a partner in this long-awaited project that will allow adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to live in an inclusive community. We are excited to make this project a reality for our clients.” JESPY House has been designated the agency to identify, support, and offer services to residents with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. 

A rendering of South Orange Commons, which contains 26 affordable apartment units.

Bergen County’s United Way/Madeline Housing Partners, LLC and Penwal Affordable Housing Corporation will construct the building. Together, these organizations have over 45 years of experience in non-profit affordable housing development. They recently completed an 85-unit project for seniors in Fair Lawn.  

Bergen County’s United Way/Madeline Housing Partners, LLC will also identify and support the residents in the family units. Tom Toronto, President of Bergen County’s United Way, remarked: “We won the lottery when we were asked to partner on this project because our mission so closely aligns with that of the South Orange community. With this financing, we can bring our collective vision to life: high-quality homes that people can afford.” 

The projected cost for South Orange Commons is estimated to be $9.2 million dollars. The Village of South Orange has contributed $2.5 million to provide the land and parking for the project. NJHMFA has committed to providing $547,988 in tax credits annually for 10 years.  Construction for the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2022. The projected construction timeframe is 12-18 months. JESPY House and Bergen County’s United Way/Madeline Housing Partners, LLC will comply with all requirements to publicize the rental application process for South Orange Commons. 

Throughout New Jersey, communities need access to more affordable housing. Under Governor Phil Murphy, NJHMFA announced on December 23rd that it would provide over $23.1 million in annual 9% federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), to develop more than 1,500 new affordable housing units for families, seniors, and residents with disabilities throughout New Jersey. NJHFMA reported that it received an “unprecedented number of applications for proposed developments in suburban municipalities seeking to enhance affordable housing opportunities within their borders. The highly competitive tax credit funding process supports the construction of the most impactful, diverse and inclusive housing proposals.”


JESPY House helps 260 adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to live independently in South Orange, New Jersey. JESPY provides services to clients ranging in age from 18 through their senior years. These services include residential options, day programming, employment training and placement, clinical and behavioral health, athletics and fitness, recreation and the arts, and daily living skills.


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