Officials: Housing demands lacking

Lakewood committee trades barbs with NAACP president

Staff Writer

Lakewood committee
trades barbs with
NAACP president
Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD – One month after the township’s minority communities marched for affordable housing and higher wages, their organizers have yet to make demands that will achieve their goals, according to Deputy Mayor Mitch Dolobowsky.

“When someone comes to me and makes a demand,” they have to have a plan, said Dolobowsky.

Among the demands made by organizers of the recent march were meetings between the Township Committee and the Urban Ethics Committee, which represents the protesters, and the township’s clergy; title transfer within six months of township land suitable for construction of affordable housing to a nonprofit organization representing minority communities; an investigation into the waiting list for Section 8 housing that would include identification of each person’s ethnic background; and a meeting with state legislative representatives to discuss their grievances.

Mayor Marta Harrison said on Sunday that the committee was scheduled to meet with members of the clergy on Tuesday. She said she could not identify the ethnicity of people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing without violating the law.

The group also demanded the construction of 50 affordable housing units for low-income families by the end of 2004 and another 100 units by the end of 2005. However, the numbers and projected dates for completion were changed at the Oct. 2 Township Committee meeting. Despite the fluctuating numbers, Dolobowsky said his response to the group’s demands would be the same.

“This is not the Lakewood Housing Authority,” Dolobowsky said. “We can help them buy some township land and help them save some money, but I can only do what is proper and legal.”

Dolobowsky said the refusal of residents to move out of Lakewood in order to find affordable housing may be one reason why the situation led many in the town’s minority communities to march.

“I understand the frustration; we’re running out of land,” said Dolobowsky. “We’ve met our Mount Laurel (affordable housing) obligation.”

The suggestion that the township need only do what is mandated of it and that it is therefore absolved of doing more angered James Waters, one of the protest’s organizers and the president of the Lakewood branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“Can’t public servants do [more] because it’s the morally correct thing to do and not because the law requires [them] to do it?” Waters asked rhetorically.

The participants in the Sept. 20 rally also demanded higher wages.

However, at a committee meeting following the march and rally, spokesman Steven Brigham said that at the request of organizers the demand for a living wage would be omitted from the list of demands submitted to committee members.

Committeeman Ray Coles questioned why the one reasonable demand they had made was the only one they had dropped.

“How much is a living wage?” was the rhetorical question asked in response to Coles’ query by Waters. “I can’t put a number on it. I don’t have a number. My wife and daughter are on the Urban Ethics Committee. I don’t know what number they want.”

It was the Township Committee members’ reaction to their demands, Waters said, which would determine whether further demonstrations would take place.

“If the committee doesn’t do anything, then the entire state and country will know about Lakewood,” said Waters. “I’m capable of giving them some negative press. I can even bring in Al Sharpton. I can’t (personally) bring him in since the NAACP has to be the lead organization, but I have given his number to a few people in Lakewood.”

Waters, a former president of the local Democratic Party, said he had personal reasons for inflicting embarrassment on the committee members, four of whom are Democrats.

“[As president of the Democratic Club], I paved the way for them to be there and their attitudes don’t show gratitude,” he said.

Waters said in several previous interviews with the Tri-Town News that he took it personally that he had not been invited to this year’s Mayor’s Ball, which was held several months ago.

“I understand how politics works,” said Waters. “I think they were sending me a message when they left me out. Back in the lean times, when the Republicans were controlling everything, I was putting my neck on the line long before I became an NAACP president.”

Harrison denied that the omission of Waters from the partisan event was deliberate.

“Members are invited at the [Democratic] club meetings and since he missed several, that may have been the reason he wasn’t invited,” she said. “It was not meant to imply that he was in disfavor. There was no deliberate decision [to exclude him]. Jim and I have been friendly for many years. He never spoke to me directly about it or I would have invited him.”

When Dolobowsky was informed of Waters’ comments, he expressed exasperation.

“I don’t get it; Jim gets up there (at the speaker’s podium during committee meetings) and says we’re not working with the community, but we don’t do the developing,” said Dolobowsky. “The developers come to us and we find land. Bring in a developer who wants to come in and buy land and build a development for that community.”

That is exactly what another area activist, the Rev. Jimmy Wilcox of Brick Township, said he did three years ago.

“The march is for housing, but these [organizers] are the same people [who opposed] the 100 units of housing the developer I worked with several years ago [proposed],” Wilcox said in a recent phone interview. “Waters was against the units. For [him] to come out now in favor of the same thing I supported in 2000 makes no sense. Not to me it don’t, maybe to Waters. The march was done for the benefit of black bourgeois!”

However, Harrison, who confirmed that a private meeting was held with Wilcox and a developer from Pennsylvania to build low-income housing at that time, said the committee never seriously considered his housing proposal.

She denied that Waters had played any part in that decision.

“There was an initial meeting, but I don’t remember Jim Waters having an opinion at all,” said Harrison. “The committee never provided any land to this proposal. I believe the deal fell apart over the type of units that he was interested in building at the time. We didn’t want the type of units associated with low-income housing. We wanted the design to blend in with the community and that someone of any income level would want.”

That was also the opinion of Dolobowsky.

“You’re not trying to build little ghettos and prisons,” said Dolobowsky. “You want to blend it in so the individuals moving in get the same quality of life” as those who can afford more expensive housing.

Dolobowsky also had advice for Waters.

“I was taught many years ago by my father, who was not a politician, that you win a lot more with honey than you do salt,” said Dolobowsky. “My friend Jim is casting salt. If he wants something positive to happen, stop the sarcasm and we’ll discuss specifics.”