Long Branch housing chief: ‘Opportunity knocks’

Staff Writer

 The first two phases of Woodrow Wilson Commons, the Long Branch Housing Authority’s most recent redevelopment project, have been completed. Construction on the third and final phase of the housing development is set to begin this year.  KENNY WALTER/STAFF The first two phases of Woodrow Wilson Commons, the Long Branch Housing Authority’s most recent redevelopment project, have been completed. Construction on the third and final phase of the housing development is set to begin this year. KENNY WALTER/STAFF Long Branch Housing Authority (LBHA) officials celebrated a milestone last week by breaking ground for the third phase of a public housing project that has exceeded their expectations.

“Each time [we] say we are not going to do any more redevelopment, another opportunity knocks on our door,” Tyrone Garrett, LBHA executive director, said on Feb. 3.

“Never in my imagination did I believe we would be standing here talking about Woodrow Wilson Commons at this time.

“The opportunity presented itself … and we said let’s go for it,” he added. “Now we have something that is remarkable.”

Garrett said at a press conference held at the Woodrow Wilson site on High Street that 122 units in the first two phases of Woodrow Wilson Commons have been completed, and the final phase of 51 townhouse units would soon be constructed by developer Pennrose Properties.

He said the project’s 173 new units would replace 136 housing units that were previously on the site.

“If it’s a one-to-one replacement, you’ve done greater than what HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] actually expects,” he added. “To build 173 new units is almost remarkable.”

In 2012, the LBHA secured $16 million in tax credits, which are administered through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA), for the second phase to supplement $14 million in tax credits received for the first phase in 2011.

The authority will also receive $15 million from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and tax credits for the third and final phase of the Woodrow Wilson project. The Woodrow Wilson project is being developed by LBHA subsidiary Maestro and Pennsylvania-based Pennrose Properties.

Tim Henkel, senior vice president of Pennrose Properties, said the property has had flooding problems but the project has been engineered to take advantage of the site.

“The engineering marvel that exists here in a flood-prone area in a flood-prone town is really something to be proud of,” he said. “You are taking land that was sort of the castoff — that’s how housing authorities end up with the land that they have.

“It is next to the railroad track, it is lowlying land, and here we are taking something and turning it into a shining star for the town.”

Approximately half of the 122 units have been rented as of Feb. 4, and 45 families have already moved in.

Carl Jennings, chairman of the LBHA board of commissioners, said the authority’s recent redevelopment projects have benefited the entire city.

“In this economic climate, it is something that is definitely needed and is something that is created by Mr. Garrett and his staff in their hard work,” he said. “It is all about raising up the community, whether it is raising up the quality of life or raising up the value of people’s homes.”

Since 2005, the LBHA has undertaken several redevelopment projects in addition to Woodrow Wilson, including rehabbing and converting the former Gregory School as senior housing, and redeveloping both Presidential Estates and Garfield Court.

For the newer projects, the authority moved away from high-rise apartment buildings to a model of building townhousestyle apartments for public housing.

According to Garrett, the authority has been awarded HMFA tax credits seven times in the past nine years, accounting for approximately $200 million worth of redevelopment projects.

Since 2005, the authority has redeveloped 411 units of housing, he said.

“All of it is spurred by the tax credit program and the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Garrett said. “Who would have thought a small government agency would take the strides that we have?”

Garrett said construction of the third phase is set to begin in 2014 and will be completed by year’s end.

Anthony Marchetta, executive director for NJHMFA, said the third phase of Woodrow Wilson will use a combination of tax credits and federally funded superstorm Sandy monies.

“One of the chunks of Sandy dollars that were sent to us from the federal government decided to marry that low-income housing tax program and leverage it with our Sandy dollars,” he said.

“Today marks the very first project in which we are able to [combine] our 9 percent low-income tax credit program with our Sandy dollars.”

Council President John Pallone praised the work the authority has done in recent years.

“The landscape of the city really has changed as a result of everything that has happened here at the housing authority, and what’s so wonderful about this is that’s going to be for generations to come,” he said.

Rents range from $903 for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment to $1,346 for a townhome with four bedrooms and two baths.

PennReach, a nonprofit dedicated to the social mission of affordable housing, operates 10 special needs units: five for the physically disabled and five for families who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity.

For application information, visit the leasing office at 520 High St., Long Branch, or call 732-963-2266. To learn more, visit www.woodrowwilsoncommons.com.