Lakewood sells land for affordable housing

Residents on both sides of the issue have their say

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Land owned by Lakewood is literally priceless. Municipal officials had not appraised two tracts of land off Pine Street, but Township Committee members voted to adopt ordinances that sold those parcels for the token sum of $1 each at their Dec. 2 meeting. The tracts were sold to two nonprofit organizations that will construct what officials have said will be affordable housing.

In response to a resident’s question about the lack of an appraisal, Township Attorney Steven Secare said, “It costs money to have it appraised.”

Mayor Raymond Coles, Dep-uty Mayor Meir Lichtenstein and Committeeman Menashe Miller voted unanimously to adopt the two ordinances following a public hearing.

Committeemen Charles Cunliffe and Robert Singer were not present on Dec. 2.

The first ordinance ap-proved the sale of approximately 30 acres to New Jersey Housing and Neighborhood Development Inc. (NJHAND) for the construction of 300 to 400 four-bedroom homes.

The second ordinance ap-proved the sale of 10 acres for $1 to the Lakewood Housing Authority, which will construct two- and three-bedroom homes.

Coles said applicants for both projects would be selected by a lottery.

The mayor said he has worked on an affordable housing project for two years, but said several times in past interviews as well as in public comments that he cannot guarantee the housing will go to Lakewood residents. Coles was also unable to assure residents that a finite number of housing units would satisfy the needs of a growing population demanding them, but said the township had to do something.

In September 2003, advocates demanding more affordable housing in Lakewood held a march through town and a rally at a housing project on Martin Luther King Boulevard. James Waters, president of the Ocean County/Lakewood branch of the NAACP, said in February that he would organize similar actions if activists’ demands for affordable housing were not met.

Coles announced his housing initiative in May. On June 9 he held a community meeting he described as a housing summit. At that time several developers presented their plans to build affordable housing. At the Aug. 18 Township Committee meeting Coles said the project had stalled pending identification of suitable land to be used in the project. By October, that impediment appeared to have been resolved to Coles’ satisfaction, but not that of residents in the area where the housing projects would be constructed.

Before committee members voted on the sale of the land to the nonprofits, residents who are opposed to the project implored the committee to table the action, while housing advocates defended it.

One resident accused the committee of giving away municipal land.

Another resident said Lakewood has met its affordable housing obligations and said she would like to see the environment preserved for future generations.

Michael McNeil, the co-chair of STEPS (Solutions To End Poverty Soon), a statewide organization that advocates for housing and jobs, said in reply that he wanted to see more affordable housing.

“Affordable housing is what we need,” he said. “I didn’t think so many people would be [opposed] to affordable housing. I’m proud of Lakewood for doing its share and I hope [it] will do more.”

Laura Wegemen questioned how developers could be made to sell the homes at minimal profit or why it was necessary to build so many houses on land near her home.

“Lakewood has the highest percentage of low-income housing,” she said. “We’re against overdevelopment, period. Enough is enough.”

Charles Anthony said that he, too, understood the need for affordable housing, but asked why it was necessary to provide it by selling taxpayer-owned land for $1.

Irving Thomas said it was the American dream to own a home.

“I’m scared of overdevelopment, but … we can’t say no [to aspiring homeowners] and close the door” to their hopes, he said. “Everybody wants to be happy and comfortable, but more jobs are leaving this country [every] day. Affordable housing is needed.”

One resident asked why a wooded area has to be sacrificed to house people who already live in Lakewood instead of repairing the residences where they currently reside.

On Dec. 3, Coles said the township is working to rehabilitate existing housing through the federally funded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

“We allocated $200,000 this year through the CDBG program, [which provides] individual grants [of up to] $15,000 to rehabilitate housing,” he said.

Coles said although funding was available for the rehabilitation of homes, landlords could not be forced to apply to the program.

Ervin Oros, who administers the CDBG program, said there is a waiting list for those who apply for the federal Housing and Urban Development funds.

David Druckaroff, who works in Lakewood’s code enforcement department, said at the Dec. 2 meeting that housing is unaffordable to some people due to the economic principle of supply and demand. He said creating more housing would increase Lakewood’s work force and limit their job opportunities in the community.

“The entire world population cannot live in this township,” he said.