Having tombstones for neighbors would spook some people. When Daryl Boone gazes out his bedroom window at Evergreen Cemetery, he is filled with joy.
“It’s like a new lease on life,” Daryl said on Thursday.
He has just moved into this sunny, affordable one-bedroom Morristown apartment, in a new $1.8 million, six-unit house that Homeless Solutions Inc. says may be its final project because of cloudy state funding.
The Morristown nonprofit is taking a chance on Daryl, a 59-year-old recovering cocaine addict. The Rutgers graduate studied law at Howard University and worked for Janet Reno, a future U.S. Attorney General, when she was a prosecutor in Florida.
Along the way, Daryl said, he “squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars” on drugs. A job in Princeton University’s legal department fell by the wayside.
At rock bottom, he turned to an uncle for help eight years ago and landed in Morristown’s Market Street Mission. Now Daryl is a supervisor at Walmart. The decision to rent him the apartment on Martin Luther King Avenue fell to Latisha Davis, property manager for Homeless Solutions.
“He wrote me a letter, and explained how he was trying to better his life. He got some recommendations from some other people in Morris County that he has worked with, who can really vouch for his character. Taking those things into consideration, and considering that his criminal past was extremely long ago, I decided to take a chance on him,” Latisha said.
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To qualify for the subsidized housing, tenants must meet federal definitions of low-income. Households cannot earn more than $28,000 a year, said Sue Robinson, a spokesperson for Homeless Solutions. Rents at the MLK home are based on income and range from $510 to $851 a month.
Residents include one person who had been sleeping in a car. Another tenant works for a law firm; a single mom is a bank teller. Two of the tenants have disabilities. Annual incomes of the group are between $14,000 and $27,000, said Homeless Solutions President Betsey Hall.
THE LAST PROJECT?
Over the past seven years, Betsey said, HSI has invested $7 million creating 28 affordable housing units around Morristown.
“Truly, this is the solution to homelessness,” Diane Johnson, Newark field office director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting in Morristown.
The house on Martin Luther King Avenue is loaded with “green” features, from solar panels to bamboo floors, heat pumps, water-conserving toilets and thick wall insulation. It may become a monument of sorts, according to Betsey Hall, citing Trenton politics.
“This may be the last project we do for five or 10 years,” she told guests at the ceremony.
The state Council on Affordable Housing this week started the process of transferring at least $142 million designated for affordable housing to help balance the state budget, reports NJ Spotlight.
It’s money that towns collected from developers. But local governments say they have been unable to spend these funds on affordable housing because they need approval from the Council on Affordable Housing–which Gov. Christie began dismantling in 2011.
Homeless Solutions projects planned for Bernardsville, Chester Borough and Mount Olive are in jeopardy, said Dan McGuire of HSI. Uncertainty about state affordable housing guidelines also has held up $256,000 in funding from Morristown for the Martin Luther King Avenue project, Dan said.
Grants and low-income loans for that project have come from the Special Needs Trust Fund, of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency; the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York; the Morris County Home Program, and the Somerset Hills Bank, Dan said.
Several local contractors from the project attended Thursday’s ceremony, including Schommer Engineering Inc., F.J. Rawding Architects and the law firm of Porzio, Bromberg and Newman, which donated its services.
Daryl Boone, who had been sharing an apartment with several people, thanked Homeless Solutions and its supporters for backing a venture “that allows people to regain their self-esteem.” He vowed to set a good example and keep his children and grandchildren from repeating his mistakes.
Then he hugged Latisha Davis. Tears flowed.
“Already, this has made a fantastic difference,” Daryl said of his apartment by the graveyard. “My life is 100 percent better.”