By Marion Filler
The building boom in Morristown continues, with luxury apartments leading the way. But not everyone is the beneficiary.
According to the nonprofit Homeless Solutions Inc., rent increases have far outpaced wage growth, particularly for low-wage workers. The result is that 40 percent of the 19,000 renters in Morris County spend more on their housing than is considered affordable.
Homelessness is a problem.
A new eight-apartment building on Martin Luther King Avenue, straddling the border of Morristown and Morris Township, is the latest venture of the housing development team at Homeless Solutions (HSI).
“We take something that’s a problem property or an underutilized property and turn it into something nice,” HSI CEO Dan McGuire said at Friday’s ribbon cutting.
Ribbon-cutting for affordable apartments on MLK Avenue. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
Erecting a residence that extends into two towns is a first for HSI. Dignitaries from the Town and Township came to the event, also attended by officials from Morris County government and a staffer for Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.).
This project is prioritized for special needs households, and offers a pair of four-bedroom apartments, another first for HSI, which seeks to offer options for larger families.
The attractive green clapboard home with white trim replaces a derelict building that was in foreclosure and bank-owned. “When people drive by we don’t want them to think about affordable housing. It doesn’t stigmatize whoever is inside,” said McGuire.
A color scheme of beige, black and white flows through the entire space. Linen-like ceramic tile, both practical and beautiful, is found in the entryway and on the stairs.
Two large communal Kitchens with black cabinets and appliances are contrasted against light wood tile flooring that continues the theme. Heating and air conditioning units are mounted on interior walls and, according to builder Vince Lia, they are geothermal.
‘HOUSING IS EMPOWERMENT’
Morris Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, liaison to the county’s Human Services programs, said these units will make a world of difference for children who have been homeless. “Children are excited to have a roof over their head,” and to be able to socialize and play with other children.
“Housing is empowerment that offers safety and strength,” said Wesley Gaynor, director of programs and services for HSI.
“Housing is a tool that can aid fixing households that were once broken by the impact of chronic homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, physical and mental health conditions, and poverty. Housing is hope, housing is healing, housing is opportunity,” Gaynor said.
Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel said he was “glad the two municipalities could work together to bring this fantastic project to fruition. HSI is an invaluable resource for many towns and we are grateful for their presence in Morris Township.”
Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel welcomes new affordable units. Video by Marion Filler for MorristownGreen.com:
“This fills a critical missing link in the affordable housing community,” Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said in a statement. He was represented by Morristown Administrator Jillian Barrick.
Kellie Doucette was there for Congresswoman Sherrill. Freeholder Stephen Shaw also attended.
A special thank you was given to Peter Simon and the William E. Simon Foundation for their initial $500,000 investment, which encouraged other private investors to help underwrite the $2.6 million project.
Nearly $700,000 came from the National Housing Trust Fund, and another $480,000 was provided by Morristown’s affordable housing trust fund, according to HSI.
McGuire said this is the seventh Morristown property developed by HSI, “one of the largest providers of affordable housing in town, private or non-profit.”
Established in 1983, Homeless Solutions owns and manages 66 apartments that house 158 adults and children, its website states. HSI has opened 12 affordable apartments over the last two years, according to Buddy Scott, chair of the nonprofit’s development committee.
There are two four-bedroom units, two three-bedrooms, two two-bedrooms, and two one- bedroom apartments at 88 Martin Luther King Ave. Rents will be based on income, HSI says. Applicants must be homeless or meet another special needs category, meet income criteria, and pass a criminal background and credit check. Applicants can reach out here for more information.