By KIMBERLY REDMOND
PATERSON, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) awarded a $2.6 million grant to Paterson Habitat for Humanity, funding that the non-profit says will help further its efforts to transform the city’s 4th Ward into a safer and more stable place to live.
Back in 2012, Paterson Habitat identified a 12-block area in the 4th Ward, one of the most distressed wards in the city, as an area of focus for revitalization efforts.
Scott Millard, the organization’s chief executive officer, said the area was targeted because it “contains the census tracts with the lowest home ownership rates and highest vacancy rates” in the city.
But Paterson Habitat, along with several community partners and city officials, has been hard at work to revitalize the ward. Now, nearly a decade later, it is nearing its goal of developing 75 new owner-occupied homes in the area, houses that are sold to low-income families at no profit with zero-interest loans.
According to Millard, 59 homes were built between 2012 and 2018, and the final 13 will be done by 2022. To help accelerate development, Paterson Habitat launched the Hamilton 7 & Beyond initiative in Fall 2018.
The newly-announced funding from the state will help complete the last 13 homes, he said. The $2.6 million award will be applied towards the project, which Millard said costs around $5.4 million, and will be reimbursed for “qualified development costs.”
“At a time when a safe place to call home is more important than ever before, we couldn’t be more appreciative of the investment and support from the NJ Department of Community Affairs through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will take these projects from plans to reality,” Millard said.
Right now, three homes are under construction and the funding “enables us to greenlight construction” for the remaining 10 houses, Millard said. Permitting will begin in January and Millard anticipates breaking ground in early spring on Harrison Street and by summer on Governor Street.
Paterson Habitat was one of several organizations across the state that received funding to help develop affordable housing. Altogether $19 million was allocated statewide through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a program that was restored as part of Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2020 budget.
Projects were selected based on several factors, including strong municipal support, participation in other state-funding community development initiatives, partnerships with private sector investors, sustainability and resilience. Other aspects considered include: accessibility, walkability and whether it is mixed-used proposal, according to the state.
The state also prioritized “smaller rental and homeownership housing projects sized at 25 or fewer units, which often have difficulty obtaining financing.” These units are aimed at providing a home for those who earn less than 80% of the area’s median income.
Since its founding in 1984, Paterson Habitat has provided almost 300 homes in the city, a large percentage of them located in the 1st Ward.
In some cases, when houses are beyond repair, the structures have been demolished to open up land for new construction. In other instances, existing housing has been rehabilitated.
Potential homeowners must also perform 400 hours of “sweat equity,” which includes being involved at a Paterson Habitat construction site, classes with the Housing and Urban Development’s counseling program and some volunteer work. They also must pay 1% of the purchase price up front, cover the cost of closing and then make mortgage payments each month to Paterson Habitat.
The two newest homes were turned over to their owners on Dec. 23 – just in time for Christmas, according to Millard. Handing a family the keys to their new home is always a very rewarding part of the work that Paterson Habitat does, Millard said.
But, he said, “I think even more rewarding is seeing how a safe, stable and affordable home transforms lives over time; getting to see a child become the first from their family to attend and graduate from college, and getting to watch as homeowners become business owners, community activists, educators, and leaders, I think that is the most rewarding part.”
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has said the work that Paterson Habitat is doing is “changing the narrative” in the city, by helping residents achieve home ownership.
“We are always grateful when organizations in our great city receive funding that will benefit our residents,” he said. “The City of Paterson is proud of our partnership with Habitat for Humanity and look forward to a continued collaboration that will provide more affordable housing opportunities in Paterson.”
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who serves as chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, said he was “very glad to see the Affordable Housing Trust Funds begin to make a lasting impact on our communities in need” and help “make more affordable homes a reality in the state.”
“This will be life-changing for many families and it’s only the beginning of ensuring good, quality housing opportunities for residents throughout New Jersey,” he said.