A pair of three-story buildings behind Borough Hall will add 20 affordable apartments to the Haddonfield downtown in a project that has been 15 years in the making.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 2, 2023
After some 15 years of planning, Haddonfield may now be just 15 short months away from completing a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project that will create 20 affordable housing units in the heart of the borough downtown.
Formerly dubbed Snowden Commons, and now, “The Place at Haddonfield,” the development will add four one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom, and six three-bedroom units across two, three-story buildings in what was formerly a sizeable parking lot in the rear of Haddonfield Borough Hall.
“I’m excited that we finally have achievable housing,” Haddonfield Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich said.
“You can call it affordable, subsidized, low-to-moderate-income housing; it’s making homes for people who couldn’t normally afford market-rate housing in Haddonfield.”
The borough, like most other towns in New Jersey, has an outstanding obligation to provide opportunity for the development of additional affordable housing units — places to live that are less expensive than market-rate housing in a community where the median home value tops half a million dollars.
By last count, Haddonfield still has an unmet need of some 300 affordable units, excluding 20 provided via the new development on Snowden Avenue.
Ten units will be available to families earning 50 percent or less of area median income (AMI), which is $68,640 annually; three units will be reserved for people earning 30 percent or less of AMI.
For those at the lowest income threshold, a one-bedroom unit will rent for as little as $458 per month; at the uppermost reaches, a three-bedroom unit renting to a family at the maximum income level will rent for around $1,422 per month.
Each unit will have its own private entrance, high-efficiency central air conditioning and heating, and Energy Star-certified appliances, including dishwashers, refrigerators, and ranges.
Bianco Bezich, who has made addressing the borough affordable housing obligation a priority since she was elected to the municipal government in 2019, said The Place at Haddonfield reflects a commitment to equity that the town must embrace.
“It was lack of funding for smaller developments, lack of consciousness, decisions from zoning that pushed people out for decades and decades,” the mayor said.
“Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, hoping we could stitch together what it takes to live in a safe and comfortable community.
“You have an obligation at all levels of government to make that happen.”
Adam Gordon, Executive Director of the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center, said his agency had been collaborating with Haddonfield to get the Snowden Avenue project going since 2007-08.
The Center has a long history of leveraging the Mount Laurel Doctrine to make municipalities comply with their affordable housing obligations, and Gordon said plainly that “there would have been consequences if this [project]didn’t move forward.”
Bianco Bezich, who said she spent her first year trying to get the back-burnered development back on track, thanked Gordon and Fair Share Housing for being “a great partner,” and keeping Haddonfield accountable to its housing responsibilities.
“We had to call attention to the fact that we weren’t meeting our commitment, and he helped me do that,” she said. “I’m very proud of it, and very excited to see it come to fruition before 2025.”
“It’s been a long road, and it’s exciting to see it happening,” Gordon said. “The mayor made some compromises with neighbors, and pushed back against some complaints to get it done.”
The Place at Haddonfield also stands out from among other common approaches to affordable housing because it occupies a smaller footprint, and is tightly integrated into the downtown of a walkable community. The development is situated close to shopping and dining as well as a grocery store, pharmacy, and public transit.
“A lot of affordable housing projects are bigger,” Gordon said. “If we need 70, 80, 90 units, it’s hard to find a place in Haddonfield to do it. There’s limited access to housing here that’s affordable, and there’s lots of competition for it.”
Lorissa Luciani, Administrator of Housing Production at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), said that smaller projects like The Place at Haddonfield “take advantage of integration into the community, especially from a design perspective.”
DCA supported the project development with $4.75 million in financing from the state Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is replenished by realty transfer fees.
“Smaller projects offer a lot more flexibility with low-interest financing,” Luciani said.
“We’re able to step in where some of these judiciaries aren’t able to, and get units built,” she said. “Supply is at such a deficit and the need is there.”
Nonetheless, Luciani pointed out the depth of collaboration required to complete an affordable housing development of any scale — including working with local governments to secure land parcels and PILOT agreements, ensuring a minimum 30-year affordability term for the projects, and partnering with locals to bring context to the project — is significant.
“These projects are just as hard to get done as larger ones,” she said.
The 20-unit complex qualifies as missing middle housing, a planning concept centered on creating affordable housing “at a scale that’s contextual,” including multifamily duplexes, triplexes, and quad homes, Luciani said.
Community Investment Strategies, Inc. (CIS) of Lawrenceville, will oversee construction of the project, and will own and manage it once The Place at Haddonfield is completed, which is anticipated to take 15 months.
CIS President Chris Foglio, an urban planner and former chair of the New Jersey Council On Affordable Housing (COAH), said that the development could be “a poster child for how you do an in-town site,” countering notions that affordable housing projects should be larger, or built outside of a city center.
“People are always fearful of the unknown,” Foglio said. “Once they see a small job that didn’t upend the town, maybe some other municipalities won’t be as fearful. It’s really hard to do, but it’s really worth it. I give the leadership credit.”
Bianco Bezich said she wants Haddonfield to continue approaching its affordable housing obligation with a “scattered sites” strategy that integrates smaller-scale, neighborhood-context units within the community.
“Realistically, where are we making room for the ‘missing middle,’ and creating attainable options for people of all ages, all abilities, low through middle income?” the mayor said.
“We find out for sure what we’re really talking about in 2025 with the next round of COAH. It’s a lot of work, it’s often complex, and there’s no simple solution.”
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