On February 24, the South Orange Township Board of Trustees took another step forward in building a 40-unit affordable and service housing development on two properties on W. 3rd Street.
The housing, to be built in coordination with Jespy House and the United Way of Bergen County, will help the Township meet its new affordable housing requirement and provide much needed affordable housing in the town.
The Board of Trustees introduced an ordinance on first reading on Feb. 24 — Ordinance 2020-07: Bond Ordinance Providing for Purchase of 45 West 3rd Street, appropriating $1.5M and authorizing $$1,428,500 in bonds or notes to finance the purchase. The Township tabled a companion resolution — Resolution 2020-073 — directing the Planning Board to prepare a redevelopment plan for the property and the adjacent property, 41 W. 3rd Street, which the Township already owns.
Upon tabling the resolution, Village President Sheena Collum noted that the Township was anticipating introducing a plan for the site in next few weeks, noting that the proposed project would be “100% affordable and support services housing.”
The development will help the Township meet its new affordable housing obligation, which was approved by the BOT earlier this year after a multi-year process to settle a suit brought by the Fair Share Housing Center. The Township’s new obligation is now to provide 192 affordable housing units by 2025 (the previous obligation was 63 units).
In interview prior to the Feb. 24 BOT meeting, Trustee Bob Zuckerman, who is the Board’s point person on the W. 3rd Street development, noted that the Township had already purchased 41 W. 3rd Street a number of years back with Open Space Trust Funds in an attempt to preserve green space. However, Zuckerman explained that the Township’s new obligation for affordable housing superceded that need.
“What we’re looking to do is take 41 and 45 W. 3rd and turn it into the largest affordable housing project in South Orange probably ever,” said Zuckerman. “We’re looking to build 40 units of affordable housing” with 50% for low income families and 50% for supportive housing through Jespy House. “This is being done in a partnership with the town, Jespy House, and the Bergen County United Way which has a history of developing affordable housing,” said Zuckerman.
Zuckerman explained that the project requires a series of changes to the Church Street Redevelopment Plan that will require the Township to create overlay zoning for the project. The proposed W. 3rd Street development was discussed at a South Orange Development Committee earlier this month.
Collum noted that the project was on a faster track than is normal for South Orange development projects.
Zuckerman explained the reason: “We are acting quickly because we are looking for a 9% tax credit from the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA),” that will cover 70% of the estimated $10M construction costs. “The reason that we are moving quickly is because just a couple of weeks ago they instructed us that we need to provide at least a preliminary site plan approval by July 22.” This will necessitate public hearings and approval from the BOT and the Planning Board on the redevelopment plan as well as preliminary site plan approval by the Planning Board.
“We have a tax consultant advising us on this project. He says we have a really good chance of achieving a perfect score for the NJHMFA. Even if we get a perfect score, doesn’t mean we will get accepted this year, but we want to do everything we can to apply this year,” said Zuckerman, who also explained that it wasn’t a given that the project would be approved — only about 25% of the projects are funded each year.
“We check a lot of boxes,” said Zuckerman. “Supportive housing, low income housing, a municipality and two non-profit partners” — and no for-profit partners or market rate housing.
Both Collum and Zuckerman were keen to assure residents that although the development will be on the “fast track,” there would be plenty of citizen engagement.
“It’s a great project that adds significant affordable without adding any more market rate housing to the town,” said Zuckeman. “It gives us a lot of affordable housing credits toward our Fair Share Housing settlement plan.”
“And it’s the right thing to do.”