Morristown council grants $100K for new ‘shared home’ in Historic District

Two brothers hope to convert this residence in Morristown's Historic District to a group home. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Two brothers are striving to convert this residence in Morristown's Historic District to a shared home. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Morristown’s council on Tuesday gave a $100,000 vote of confidence to a new nonprofit that plans to  create a home for the developmentally disabled in the Historic District.

The money, from the town’s affordable housing trust fund, will help brothers Nate and Yehuda Diskint secure additional funds to purchase a stately Victorian house on Miller Road and convert it to an eight-bed residence for people with intellectual disabilities and other special needs.

“We are very grateful for the town’s support, and all of the support we have received so far. This formal recognition from the town is a big step for us, and also for individuals with special needs and their families,” said Nate Diskint.

He calls the venture Co-home Inc., although the town refers to it as Morris Blue Inc.

The porch of proposed Morristown group home. Photo courtesy of Morris Blue Inc.
The porch of proposed Morristown group home. Photo courtesy of Morris Blue Inc.

The spending resolution passed by a 5-1 vote. Councilwoman Alison Deeb, whose Fourth Ward includes the Historic District, voted no. Councilman David Silva was absent.

Deeb questioned removing a $25,000 ratable from the town tax rolls for an experiment.

“My biggest concern is that there’s no precedent for us as a governing body to give money to a nonprofit of this nature,” said the councilwoman.

She suggested negotiating a lower contribution, and asked if it would be wiser to invest in new construction, rather than retrofitting an older home in one of Morristown’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Deeb also cited problems a few years ago with a poorly run group home on Headley Road. The town bought that property and resold it at a loss.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone said he was impressed by the plans, and by legal protections negotiated by the town.

Morris Blue addresses a vital need for families of special needs adults, he said, by creating a safe and convenient environment for their loved ones.

Councilman Stefan Armington agreed. Few enterprises are offering to build homes for the intellectually disabled, he observed.

“If we’re going to to provide housing for this this group of the population, I think we need to go with a new organization,” Armington said, referring to Morris Blue.

The deal requires Morris Blue to set aside two rooms in the 5,400-square-foot house as affordable housing units. Armington said this actually will count as four credits toward the town’s obligation to provide housing for people with low- and moderate incomes.

Town officials say Morristown’s affordable housing trust fund has collected about $1 million in developers fees to underwrite affordable housing.

‘KEEPING THE DEAL ALIVE’

“What this vote does is allows the project to continue and keeps the deal alive,” town Planner Phil Abramson explained on Tuesday.

Morris Blue has had a purchase contract for two years, he said, and without town support, “the property owner may lose patience.”

Abramson said the town requested extensive documentation from Morris Blue. Although it’s a fledgling organization, Morris Blue is partnering with established nonprofits that will operate the facility and provide services, he said.

Staircase in proposed Miller Road group home. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Staircase in proposed Miller Road group home. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Diskents must comply with all local and state regulations, the planner continued, noting the state generally treats such community homes like residential homes.  A court that oversees affordable housing statewide authorized Morristown to proceed with negotiations for this project, Abramson said.

There are state restrictions on what percentage of a town’s affordable obligation may be met via “supportive housing.” Morristown is nowhere near reaching that limit, Abramson said.

State rules also mandate a lottery for people seeking affordable units, and Abramson said it’s unclear whether local applicants would get special preference in this case. He said he is pleased the Diskints have structured their plans to accommodate residents from diverse economic backgrounds.

Nate, 28, has a background in sports biofeedback consulting. Yehuda, 30, is a lawyer. The Chatham natives say this project was was inspired by their brother Jeremy, 24, who has Down syndrome.

Nate introduced Jeremy to the council on Tuesday.

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