Mayor takes first step in affordable housing goal

Staff Writer

Mayor takes first step in
affordable housing goal
Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — Mayor Raymond Coles has unveiled the details of his plan to provide affordable housing for people who need it.

Coles said that since Lakewood has fulfilled its state mandated affordable housing obligation, the housing plan he is proposing will not be built under the auspices of the state Council On Affordable Housing (COAH), but that it would be built in conformance with COAH guidelines.

Affordable housing as defined by COAH is housing that is sold or rented at below market prices to people whose income meets regional guidelines established by the state.

Affordable housing as defined by Coles is housing with a cost that will be kept as low as possible.

According to E.J. Miranda, a spokesperson for the state Department of Community Affairs, Lakewood has not applied for COAH certification because it is an urban aid municipality. He said such municipalities historically have not come to COAH for certification because they have not been assigned new construction obligations for affordable housing.If a township has not applied for COAH certification, COAH does not monitor affordable housing built in that town, said Miranda. However, he said that Lakewood recently started a community development department and has an active housing rehabilitation program. Miranda also said that officials in the township expressed interest in discussing the possibility of petitioning COAH for substantive certification in the future.

Despite his intention to provide af­fordable housing to residents, Coles said he could not ensure it would go only to people who live in town.

"We are going to do our best to provide housing at prices that will be kept as low as possible," the mayor said. "I’m sure that someone making minimum wage can’t afford to buy their own home. That has been my concern in seeing that [residents] qualify for the housing we build."

He said people would be qualified to own their own home at reduced prices based on a combination of factors that in­cluded salary and family size.

Coles said the average price of a three- or four-bedroom home in Lakewood costs about $350,000.

"We want to provide housing at under that cost," he said. "We’re asking (designated organizations) to present us with ideas that they can implement and bring to Lakewood."

Coles said representatives from the housing authority; New Jersey Hand, a local nonprofit organization formed last year to address affordable housing needs in Lakewood; and Homes for All, founded more than a decade ago to provide afford­able housing for Ocean County residents, would be instrumental in bringing the program to fruition. He did not specify a timetable for the plan.

"The housing authority will be there to provide a mix of affordable rental, rent-to-own and ownership units," said the mayor. "I feel that the best way residents can become stakeholders in the neighbor­hood is through ownership of homes. But the emphasis of the housing authority will be rental units because a lot of the folks who need housing are not at the point in their lives where they have the economic tools to realize their dream. A lot of people [also] prefer to rent."

Coles said New Jersey Hand would be asked to come up with a plan to build 100 to 200 home ownership units, varying in size from one to four bedrooms. Homes for All and the housing authority would work together to realize the plan. Fleet Bank would provide financial services.

In addition to building housing, Coles said representatives from community or­ganizations such as Solutions To End Poverty Soon (STEPS), the Lakewood/Ocean NAACP chapter and the Puerto Rican Action Board would be in­strumental in preparing residents for home ownership.

"We chose these organizations because they know Lakewood and their responsi­bilities are mainly for Lakewood resi­dents," Coles said.

The organizations will work in con­junction with Fleet Bank to provide coun­seling, training and credit repair for resi­dents desiring to own a home of their own, he said.

Coles said there are several housing plans available through the federal gov­ernment. They include the family self-suf­ficiency program, which allows families to build equity toward the purchase of a home. The home ownership program permits some families to apply their Section 8 vouchers toward home owner­ship.

The mayor said he was hopeful that other municipal governments throughout the area would also provide affordable housing for their residents.

"This is a first step, something that’s long overdue," Coles said. "I can only hope that when our neighboring towns see the positive impact on our residents, they will take similar steps. Unless ev­erybody takes steps to fulfill the respon­sibility, the housing crisis in the state will never be solved."