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New 12-Unit Building Opens to Provide Apartments For Homeless

County-Backed Project Built on Land Previously Owned by NB Housing Authority
Zebra Way Ribbon Cutting
Government officials and non-profit administrators prepare to cut the ribbon on Zebra Way. Christian Rosario

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Tenants will soon be moving into a new 12-unit apartment building intended to provide permanent housing for homeless individuals and families.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on March 13 with many influential supporters in attendance, including Mayor James Cahill and two of the county's elected Freeholders.

The $3.5 million project was developed by Coming Home of Middlesex County, Inc., a non-profit that coordinates for homeless services in the county, and the partnership of Madeline Corporation and Bergen County’s United Way.

Triple C Housing, Inc., a company based in South Brunswick, will administer social services to residents.

The building is located at 101 Zebra Way, next to the nearly seven-decades-old Schwartz Homes and Robeson Village public housing complex.

The new building has ten one-bedroom units with rents set at $230 per month and two, two-bedroom units with rents set at $460 per month.

New Brunswick Housing Authority (NBHA) formerly owned the land but sold it to the non-profit for $100,000 in 2015.

Five of the new housing units are supported by federal "Shelter Plus Care" vouchers, which assist homeless individuals with disabilities. Low-cost units are directed at “hardship homeless,” people who are homeless, but do not necessarily have a disability or special need.

The building contains communal kitchens, an outdoor patio area, security cameras, a bike rack, a common laundry room and onsite social services. Residents are being selected from Middlesex County’s Coordinated Assessment Program.

New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJMFHA) gave the project $2.2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) monies through the Sandy Special Needs Housing Fund, which was created to help develop permanent supportive housing in counties most impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

The project also includes $840,000 from Middlesex County’s Housing First Capital Fund and $450,000 in City of New Brunswick HOME Investment Partnership Program funds.

The project is part of Middlesex County's 10-year "Plan to End Homelessness," which kicked-off in 2007 and emphasizes permanent housing as a solution.

Frances O’Toole, Assistant Director of Programs at Coming Home, says that her organization embraces the "Housing First" philosophy, which aims to move homeless directly into permanent housing without transition periods.

O’Toole is also director of Homes for the Homeless, a Coming Home project that creates permanent housing on a needs-based process. Partners in this project include financiers, developers, service providers, public housing authorities and both municipal and county governments.

Eileen O’Donnell, Executive Director of Coming Home, said she first started looking for partners in 2013 and wants to “replicate this model throughout the county because it has worked well so far.”

Homes for the Homeless also has continuing projects in Highland Park and Perth Amboy.

Many of the speakers, which included Mayor Cahill, Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald Rios and Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti, spoke of how the project continues the city’s use of the public-private partnership (PPP).

PPP’s are contractual arrangements between public agencies and private companies, and their applications can range from combining private and public financing on a particular project to privatization of former public property or services.

PPP’s have been identified as a focus to New Brunswick’s revitalization developments since the American City Corporation published its 1975 report “Trends, Issues, and Priorities in the Revitalization of New Brunswick.”

O’Toole said it’s hard to complete Homes for Homeless projects because private developers have much more cash on hand.  Non-profits, however, may have access to rare taxpayer subsidies that private developers don’t have, but these monies arrive slower, often too late when it comes to closing a contract.

O’Toole is still on the lookout for available real estate for her agency's next project.

Directly behind Zebra Way are Schwartz Homes units with caving roofs and bricks leaning out. Vinyl siding was installed to fix the leaning bricks.

When Gretchen Spencer, a longtime resident of the neighboring Robeson Village, walked into Zebra Way, she said it’s what she would expect NBHA, the owner of Robeson Village and Schwartz Homes, would construct on their property.

“You can breathe. You’re not breathing in mold or mildew,” Spencer said. “It’s very nice, but they need to build something similar for the people behind here.”

Spencer said issues in the Schwartz and Robeson include broken window and door frames that prevent them from closing, pipes bursting behind walls, holes in ceilings, and mice. Spencer often voices these problems at monthly NBHA Board meetings.

The discrepancy between development in the downtown area and the Fourth Ward neighborhood, where the public housing complexes are located, is another issue that often comes up at the meetings.

Spencer says she remembers a long time ago when there was a pool and playground not far from where the new 12-unit building stands.

“Now they say our children should go play at Wright Place. But nobody wants to send their child to a place where they’re selling drugs.”

Bergen County’s United Way and Madeline Corporation previously partnered with NJHMFA on Dina's Dwellings in New Brunswick, which has provided supportive housing for women and children who are domestic violence survivors since 2016.