State financing in the amount of $4.7 million will help spur development of 25 affordable units in the borough. The local government is also moving to convert other vacant properties to help offset its considerable affordable housing deficit.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 15, 2021
In January, Snowden Commons, the biggest affordable housing project on the docket in Haddonfield, got a big boost from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
DCA issued an award of $4.7-million in low-interest financing for the project from the state Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) to E & B Housing, LLC, the nonprofit developer attached to the project, to help offset its costs in bringing it online.
Haddonfield had requested $6 million in total for the project, and Borough Commissioner Colleen Bianco Bezich continues to appeal for the remainder of the request in what she described as a deliberative process; she said the extra money would help to offset some of the financing and carrying costs of the project.
Last week, the redevelopment project took another step forward, as the borough government approved an affordable housing overlay for the property, a 40,000-square-foot lot situated behind Haddonfield Borough Hall.
Although Snowden Commons is expected to create 20 brand-new units in the borough, Haddonfield still carries a significant unmet affordable housing need: according to a June 2020 settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Corporation, it amounts to some 300 affordable housing units, as estimated through 2025.
The DCA financing award also supports the construction of five of those units at Boxwood Hall, a historic property at 65 Haddon Avenue that the borough once considered redeveloping into a performing arts center. But that still leaves a significant, unaddressed deficit.
Or, as Bianco Bezich put it, “Snowden doesn’t solve the problem by itself.”
Under New Jersey’s affordable housing laws, any developer who builds five or more new residential units in a given town must commit 25 percent of the project as affordable housing, setting aside units for tenants earning less than 80 percent of the median income in the area where the project is situated. These figures are established annually, and vary by region and household size.
But with Haddonfield carrying a significant backlog of affordable units in a community where median home prices well exceed a half-million dollars, “The issue is, should we, could we, be doing more to create affordable and median-priced housing in this borough?” Bianco Bezich said.
The commissioner, who spearheaded the DCA grant application, believes that “putting more affordable housing in Haddonfield is long overdue.”
So, in addition to securing the funds for Snowden Commons and the pending Boxwood subdivision, she’s been reviewing opportunities to add affordable housing units at other, scattered, infill sites throughout Haddonfield.
Her solution: a property conversion program, whereby the borough works with owners of vacant, existing housing units to convert them to 30-year-deed-restricted, affordable rental properties.
Haddonfield has already committed $77,500 of its local affordable housing trust fund to the acquisition of the first three properties in the program (129 Fowler Avenue, 202 Haddonfield Commons, and 283 Lake Street), and another $100,000 to establish an operating budget for a non-profit housing corporation, which would handle closing costs, title changes, and oversee management of the affordable units.
Once the housing entity is established formally, it will facilitate a housing lottery through the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) to find tenants who meet those income restrictions. In turn, property owners receive tax abatements, access to qualified low-income tenants, and an up-front fee for any costs in bringing their units up to rental code.
“Whatever we might pay to create a deed restriction costs less than acquiring properties,” Bianco Bezich said.
Program costs would be deducted from the Haddonfield affordable housing trust fund dollars, the balance of which is about $1.171 million after municipal contributions to the Snowden project ($560,000) and the work done to date acquiring the affordable housing units and establishing the program.
As the town works to address its unmet needs, the question for Bianco Bezich now turns to integrating those households within its broader population.
Although Snowden Commons will concentrate 20 affordable units at a single site, about which some nearby residents have raised concerns, the project was first designated in 2008, when COAH issued its third round of rules on municipal affordable housing obligations.
Since the current local government can’t help that fact 13 years later, its responsibility now turns to building the project well, and supplementing it with other high-quality housing opportunities, Bianco Bezich said.
“There’s communities where they have available land and they say, ‘let’s put all the affordable units on one side of town,” the commissioner said. “Whether [Snowden Commons] was conceived this way or not, we’re saying we’re going to meet our obligations and we’re going to meet them front and center.
“We’re encouraging responsible development,” she said. “That’s what I’m proud of, what I’m glad to see, and what I want to work towards.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the DCA award as a grant, not as a low-interest financing opportunity. The issue has been corrected in this update.
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