State funds L.B. housing projects

LBHA awarded tax credits for Gregory School conversion, Woodrow Wilson redevelopment

Staff Writer

The Long Branch Housing Authority (LBHA) willmove ahead with two housing projects after receiving nearly $30 million in state funding.

LBHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett announced during a Nov. 28 press conference that the authority has received $30 million in tax credits from the Home Mortgage and Finance Agency (HMFA) for the restoration and conversion to housing of the former Gregory School site and the demolition and redevelopment of Woodrow Wilson Homes.

Garrett acknowledged he was surprised when both Long Branch projects were awarded funding.

“I thought that would come into play and someone at a certain level would say, ‘I don’t know if we can fund two projects in Long Branch,’ but it just shows you the strength of what was presented,” he said at the press conference held at the LBHA administrative building. “I think they were just two great applications in the end compared to what everyone else is doing,” he said. “We are taking what had been deemed a historic location and converting it into housing and then we are taking a distressed site and creating a new environment.”

The LBHAwas awarded $14 million in tax credits for the Woodrow Wilson redevelopment and $16 million for the Gregory School project, to fund the first phase of each project.

Private investors in the projects will receive tax credits over a period of 10 years from the HMFA.

Garrett estimated that construction would start in June and take between 18 and 24 months to complete.

In June, the city Planning Board endorsed the proposal to convert the former Gregory School to a 116-unit senior housing complex.

The 116 units would be mostly onebedroom units, with the existing two buildings being rehabilitated and two new buildings added.

The Gregory School building was designated a historic site by the National Park Service.

Because of the designation, Garrett said previously that he is required to maintain and restore certain parts of the building, such as the outside façade, and certain aspects of the interior, such as the auditorium.

The project will have four co-developers: LBHA subsidiary Maestro Development, the LBHA, Conifer Realty, and the Metro Company.

Charles Lewis, vice president of development for Conifer, said at the press conference that the main goal is to restore the historic building.

“The original plans called for the demolition of the school,” he said. “The school is structurally sound, it’s beautiful and has a lot of history.

“It’s a classic building and one of the last remaining of its type,” he added. “It would have been a shame to knock it down.”

Stuart Portney, president of Metro, agreed that the Gregory School project is unique and will benefit the city.

“The exciting part about it is the combination of historic preservation and new construction for seniors,” he said. “The other piece of this is this is going to result in a $16 million redevelopment, and that is a significant amount of money that the housing authority is able to bring into the community from outside investments.”

The housing authority purchased the Gregory School building on North Seventh Avenue from the city in 2009. The school closed in 2006 when the Long Branch School District constructed a new school.

The current Woodrow Wilson Homes, located on Wardell Place, contains 136 low-income units. The first phase of the Woodrow Wilson project will be the demolition and construction of 65 units and the second phase will include another 85 new units.

Garrett said he is working with the developers on the plan for Woodrow Wilson and said that he wants it to be something special.

“I want the ‘wow’ factor for Woodrow, understanding that particular neighborhood is somewhat different,” he said. “We want something that might be a little extreme, a little different that captivates those individuals in that particular neighborhood.”

Phase one of the Woodrow Wilson project will begin in the northeast corner of High Street. All residents of the development will be awarded Section 8 housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with relocation costs.

Garrett said the vouchers can be used anywhere across the country and will be awarded quarterly in phases, with those impacted in phase one receiving the first round of vouchers.

He also said that current Woodrow Wilson residents will be given the right of first refusal to return once construction is complete.

The total cost of the two phases is estimated at around $50 million and the co-developers of the project are Maestro Community Development, a subsidiary of the LBHA, and Pennrose Properties LLC, a Pennsylvania-based development company.

Tim Henkel, senior vice president for Pennrose, praised the housing authority for being aggressive in pursuing projects.

“The old cliché is if you’re holding still, you are moving backward, and if you are not moving forward, you are standing still,” he said at the press conference. “I think this housing authority is moving forward at light-speed.”

While the authority has been awarded HMFAtax credits for past projects, Garrett said this is the first time a housing authority has received funding for two projects in the same round.

Garrett said the two projects would likely require some additional funding, which the authority would pursue.

He said the LBHA applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a $575,000 grant for flood mitigation for the Woodrow Wilson site.

Should the grant be awarded, Garrett said, the final site plan would be changed to accommodate catch basins.

He said he is hopeful that the two new developments will not only benefit residents but also provide jobs for locals at least for the next two years.

“The idea is to [target] individuals from the community and put them to work,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that in the past and we hope to be able to do that in the future, but double the number, because we are going to have two projects going on at the same time.”

At the press conference, the city was represented by Business Administrator HowardWoolley Jr., Councilwoman Mary Jane Celli and LBHA commission Chairman Carl Jennings. Woolley said the city’s plan was to develop the lower Broadway area as the LBHAfocuses north of Broadway, but the city’s redevelopment has stalled. “The changes down here have been nothing short of monumental,” he said. “We envisioned a redevelopment for the whole city and looked at the area north of Broadway as an overlay zone, which we hoped we would have been able to rejuvenate as we rejuvenated Broadway.

“Reality is what happens if you’re making plans, and it turns out our overlay zone has been more successful than Broadway due to the economics of our times.”

Garrett said that once the two projects are completed, the amount of public housing in the city will have increased from 643 units when he was hired in 2002 to 730 units.

The Long Branch projects were among 12 to receive funding among a total of 34 applications.

While he is pleased to be moving forward with the two housing projects, Garrett said, the authority would now look at other projects in the future.

“I think it is a great feat for the housing authority, and we are not going to stop there; we will move forward and put other projects on the board,” he said.