NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Yesterday, a crowd gathered in front of one of the city's most historic churches to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in the building's life.
After years of work on the part of domestic violence survivors and advocates, the historic First Reformed Church will soon be transformed into 10 units of supportive housing for female survivors of domestic violence.
"This project will bring the second long-term supportive housing structure to the entire state of New Jersey," reads a statement from the city government. "The first, operated by New Brunswick’s own Women Aware, is also located in the New Brunswick community."
"All tenants will be referred to social service organizations throughout the area, including Women Aware, as they work toward a new life. They will be permitted to stay as long as needed."
On hand were Mayor Jim Cahill, Council President Rebecca Escobar, Anthony Marchetta of the NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA), and the leaders of the church and a nonprofit started to pursue the project.
Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills and his wife Susan Kramer-Mills were both instrumental in the project, and they too were among the speakers at the "groundbreaking" event.
Additionally, Susan Higgins, a survivor of domestic violence gave a powerful speech about her experience as a young victim of domestic violence while living in New Brunswick. Higgins said she survived on her own as a single mother thanks in part to transitional housing.
The building is four stories tall and will be converted into 2 two-bedroom apartments, 1 one-bedroom apartment, 7 studio apartments, multipurpose community space, and a smaller worship space.
The beautiful church was built in 1812 at the corner of Bayard and Neilsen Streets, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The church is three centuries old, having been located in another building prior to the current structure.
According to NJ.com's Brian Amaral, the project will be named "Dina's Dwellings," after Dinah Van Bergh, an 18th century educator New Brunswick who was married to Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, the First Reformed Church's pastor and the first president of Queens College, which later became Rutgers University.
Town Clock CDC, the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, said the idea was "a creative solution to address [the church's] problems, which include "dwindling congregational numbers."
In 1971, a man set fire to the building, angry that the church was providing sanctuary to his partner, a victim of abuse. The fire destroyed much of the building and
Accoring to a fact sheet issued by the Town Clock CDC, 25% of women have experience domestic violence and it is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 45.
As we reported earlier, New Brunswick's governemnt committed $604,385 in funding for the project, and the NJ HMFA contributed a whopping $2.4 million.
Additional funding was provided by Bergen County United Way, a Planning Grant from the NJ Historic Trust, a Johnson & Johnson Planning Grant and private donations.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.