Freedom Village at Gibbsboro Breaking Ground in South Jersey

There will soon be affordable rental properties available for those with disabilities in south Jersey.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday morning for the brand new Freedom Village.

The 72 unit rental community will be built on seven acres of land in Gibbsboro, Camden County.

See WPVI Channel 6 Video by Clicking Here

Lawrence Band Brings Holiday Cheer to Tenants

Tenants from Robbinsville, Hamilton, and Lawrence gathered at Project Freedom at Lawrence to hear holiday and winter season music from the Lawrence Community Band.

30+ band members and 35 attendees made for a packed night of beautiful holiday music and a joyful atmosphere! The band was spectacular and the audience truly enjoyed singing along to all of their holiday favorites.

Why Do I #CripTheVote? Because the Disability Vote is Power

By Randall Oldenburg

Randall Oldenburg is a writer and thinker who is primarily concerned with topics in disability studies. As a philosophy student, he worked primarily on issues at the intersection of disability, language, and ethics. 

As a child, I didn’t think being disabled had anything to do with voting, or vice versa. I saw that my parents always voted, but I didn’t see it as an important part of my life as an American. Experience taught me just how wrong I was.

When I was 18 and first tried to vote, I almost didn’t succeed. There were many hurdles, including obtaining transportation, filling in my ballot, and proving my identity.

I had no driver’s license and didn’t yet have a government identification card. My disability didn’t completely destroy my capacity to vote, though. I didn’t have to worry. I had my brother to vouch that I was who I said I was.

“Can you vouch for him?” The volunteer asked my brother, flitting his hand toward me. I was already stressed, and now I felt my identity being doubted. I felt small. Read More Here

From Norman’s Desk – November 2018

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

The petition begins: The New Jersey Disability Community wholeheartedly opposes efforts by companies, cities, and states to ban single use plastic straws. These policies create barriers to independence, community integration, and daily living for people with disabilities, work counter to our community ideals of universal access, and place an unnecessary burden on people with disabilities to fight for the accommodations we need to live independently.

 The petition was started because well-intended but unwitting legislators are proposing legislation that will literally force people with disabilities who need straws to drink to bring their own to restaurants.  The proposed legislation is aimed at saving whales and turtles by keeping plastic straws out of the ocean.  A noble and worthy cause, but why pick on people with disabilities who need straws?    

Many people with various types of disabilities rely on single-use plastic straws to drink, eat, and take medication  independently.  Many people reading this can relate to this.  Currently, no alternatives to single-use flexible plastic straws exist that are safe, sanitary, and affordable for people with disabilities. Until these alternatives exist, it is unacceptable to create more barriers to independence and access by restricting plastic straw use.

Much of the fervor surrounding plastic straws is based entirely on viral videos and false statistics.  Plastic straws make up only about .03% of plastic waste in the ocean (fishing nets by contrast make up 46%). To risk the rights to independence and liberty that our community has fought for only .03% of waste is unacceptable to our community!  Furthermore, “offer-first” policies at restaurants have been shown to reduce straw use by up to 80% without creating any barriers to access. 

Everybody wants to save the whale and the turtle, but nobody outside of our community seems to grasp that straws are tools for people with disabilities to live healthy, independent, and productive lives as equal members of our community. The disability community believes in creating policies that protect the environment, but we also believe that this can be done in ways that do not harm the disability community.

Though some cities and states have incorporated “disability exceptions” into their straw ban legislation, the disability  community remains firm in our opposition. Medical exceptions force people with disabilities to disclose their disability to store workers. Requiring this puts an undue burden on disabled customers who already experience discrimination and  victimization.

Misconceptions and stereotypes about what a “real” disability looks like can also lead wait staff to question the validity of a customer’s need for a straw  causing them to deny, harass, or shame the customer. Do we want teenaged wait staff deciding who has a disability?/

The harsh penalties established by straw ban legislation provide incentive for vendors to err on the side of caution by routinely denying straws to anyone who requests them. It is also unlikely that stores will continue to stock plastic straws because of the (false) perception that people with disabilities make up only a small percentage of the population. This again creates an added barrier for people with disabilities. Now, when we decide to go out to dinner, not only do we have to call ahead to find if the space is accessible, but we must also find out if they have straws

While some may suggest that people who need straws simply carry around their own, this is an unfair request for several reasons. First, with straw bans sweeping the nation, single use plastic straws will inevitably become more expensive and difficult to obtain even for individual use. Second, it creates an unnecessary financial burden on people with disabilities who already experience increased rates of poverty, functioning as a form of “disability tax.” Eventually, these costs will be passed on to the taxpayer as the need for straws becomes “medicalized” to justify them as medical necessity so Medicaid picks up the ever increasing expense

In light of all of these reasons and more, the disability community is asking the New Jersey Legislators three things. First to reject any legislation that restricts access to single use plastic straws. Second, create an action plan to ensure the voices of people with disabilities are heard on all legislation before it reaches a vote. Finally, pass legislation that explicitly protects the right of people to access single-use plastic straws upon request in accordance with the ADA.

Maggie Leppert of  the Alliance Center for Independence provided much of the factual  foundation for this column. My thanks to Maggie, a future leader in the NJ disability advocacy community.

 

Norman A. Smith
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02
Follow us on Twitter @TheFreedomGuys
“Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

 

“My Two Cents” – November 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, as most of you know, Project Freedom holds our “Angel Award Dinner Gala” around this time in November. It is our once a year fundraiser which honors four individuals or organizations that have somehow contributed to furthering the cause for those with disabilities . Former Hamilton Mayor John “Jack” K. Rafferty was our first honoree, twenty one years ago, and we have continued ever since. I started this event when I became CEO, in an effort to gain support for Project Freedom and raise some funds for our tenant programs.

And each year I would work along with the Board Committee and Staff to generate auction items and to get people to attend our dinner. So, I was flabbergasted when the Committee suggested honoring me this year, along with our other honorees. Of course, I am humbled by the honor and by the fact that the board would consider me a worthy candidate. However, I am reminded that this is also a fundraiser, so that I am also expected to raise funds by getting as many folks that I know to attend this event. Of course I am happy to do so.

Now, in accepting this award, I need to recognize all our Project Freedom staff. We have had tremendous growth over these past six years, and it is due largely to our Executive Team, but also all staff members. Certainly credit goes to Tracee Battis, our Director of Housing Development; Steve Schaefer, our CFO, my own better half, Marion Doherty and, of course, our co-founder, Norman Smith. Also, our new ( almost two years now ) Compliance / Property Manager, Frank Sciarrotta, who contributes daily in supporting our project managers. These folks make my job much easier and enjoyable.

Big Credit goes to our project managers, who are on the front lines every day. Jackie, Joanne, Ceil, Dara, Laurie, and Sammi, and their support staff, Melinda, Jen, Bri, Joyce, Arlene, Judy, and Savannah, who manage the day to day operations of communities, so that our tenants can live in beautiful, well kept housing.

To our accounting Staff, Heather and Sakina, who now manage the books of twenty four entities, each of which need to be kept separately.

To our maintenance staff, Ed, Doug, Ross, Johnny, Frank, Damien, Mike, John, Len, Tony, Jim and Paul, who cut the grass, fix the plumbing, plow the snow and in general keep our buildings and grounds impeccable– I am always proud to show our properties to any visitors–be it the first project or the last–they are housing to be proud of.

To our recreation staff, Dana, Maria, Esther, Mary who work to create social opportunities for our tenants to enjoy, to get people out of their apartments and experience some fun.

To our tenant workers, Nate, Jen, Coby, Jeffery and Jason, who are always reliable.

Finally, to our Board Chair, Herb Schneider, and our Board of Trustees, who bear the ultimate responsibility for Project Freedom’s growth and advancement. Our Board meetings and committee meetings are robust, discussions, with people who care about Project Freedom and the welfare of our tenants. They are always looking to ensure that we are doing quality work that makes a difference in people’s lives.

So, I am honored to be recognized and to share our successes with all our Project Freedom family.

Ceremonial Groundbreaking for Freedom Village at West Windsor

West Windsor —  On a brisk day with bright sunshine in October, Project Freedom Inc. held a groundbreaking ceremony for Freedom Village at West Windsor, a 72 unit affordable and accessible rental community under construction located on Old Bear Brook Road already.

West Windsor Mayor Hemant Marathe, Ph.D., past Mayor Dr. Shing-Fu Hsueh, Council members, Affordable Committee members and many town officials were in attendance.  Also present was Florence Cohen, former chairperson of West Windsor’s Affordable Housing Committee, was the committee member who introduced Project Freedom Inc. to the township.

Timothy Doherty, executive director of Project Freedom Inc., welcomed the guests and speakers followed by Herb Schneider, chairman of the board of trustees, who highlighted Project Freedom’s cooperative relationship with the many towns in New Jersey that are home to Project Freedom communities. 

“Our Project Freedom Villages have been invited into each of the seven towns where we have built a community,” said Schneider, “and we have been warmly welcomed by the town officials and the neighbors. We work hard to establish a spirit of cooperation with our new neighbors and with the town.”

Mercer County Freeholder Pasquale “Pat” Colavita Jr. spoke about the “freedom provided by Project Freedom’s housing.” 

Maria Malo-Messano, Field Office Director, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, praised the inclusiveness of the development and noted that this type of housing  was what the federal government encouraged

Claudia Lovas, Deputy Executive Director, New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, Tony Lyons, Vice President of East Originations for the National Equity Fund, Benjamin Kruger, Vice President Commercial Real Estate for TD Bank,  all spoke about working and partnering with Project Freedom on eight housing projects throughout the years..

Norman Smith, co-founder of Project Freedom spoke about the mission of the organization.  

“Project Freedom housing is the foundation from which people with and without disabilities can build their lives on,” added Smith in his remarks. “What has been started here today will bring freedom to some, a comfortable sanctuary for others, and for everyone the opportunity to say West Windsor is a great place to call their hometown.

The plans for Freedom Village at West Windsor are 72 unit affordable and accessible rental community six two-story buildings with 12 apartments in each building and a Community Center.  Each building will have an elevator for easy access to the second floor and a laundry room on each floor for the convenience of the tenants. There will be one, two and three bedroom units which are designed to LEED Silver equivalency which will insure energy efficient units. Eighteen of the units will be set aside for individuals who have a disability.

The new community is funded through Tax Credits awarded by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, National Equity Fund Inc. TD Bank and Investors Bank. The General Contractor for the project is Costanza Builders of New Jersey Inc., the architect is Joseph F. McKernan Jr. Architects & Associates and the Engineer is ESE Consultants, Inc.   Construction for Freedom Village will take 14 months to complete.

West Windsor Update — October 2018

Project Freedom is pleased to announce the construction of our latest affordable housing community…Freedom Village at West Windsor.  This seventy two unit apartment community will feature one, two and three bedroom apartments, surrounding a large Community center, only steps away from the West Windsor Train Station.  The buildings are a two story design, with private entrances in front and all are totally barrier free and accessible.  The buildings will have elevators, central heat and AC and incorporate Energy Star design features, as well as being LEEDs compliant.  Ample off street parking adjacent to each building will provide easy access to each unit.

Although all units are barrier free and accessible, all units are affordable, and welcome disabled and non-disabled families. These units are regulated as to income eligibility under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program

Presently, construction is on-going with the community to be completed in the early Summer of 2019.

Tenant Pre- applications will be taken, beginning January 1, 2019 and ending March 1, 2019.  Pre-applications can be downloaded from our website at www.Projectfreedom.org or by calling Project Freedom at Lawrence at 609-278-0075 or by writing to:  Project Freedom Inc., 1 Freedom Blvd, Lawrence, NJ 08648.   Advertisements announcing the acceptance of pre-applications for West Windsor will begin in December 2018, and will run periodically during the first quarter of 2019.

A Lottery has been tentatively set for March 20, 2019 to be held at the West Windsor Municipal Building.   A lottery system will be used to rank prospective tenant applications, establishing a rental list, with interviews being conducted in the order of the lottery ranking.

We will be updating this website from time to time, so if interested please continue to monitor our website for future news regarding this housing development.  For more information please call 609-278-0075.

From Norman’s Desk – October 2018

Norman A. Smith, proud co-founder of Project Freedom

New Jersey held its Eighth Annual Disability Pride Parade and Celebration in Trenton this month.  The event is organized by the Alliance Center for Independent Living based in Edison, and I’m proud to have been a part of the parade since the beginning.

I have told this story many times, and the underlying philosophy remains important to   emphasize each year.   I have recruited people with disabilities to march in past parades. One year my neighbor sarcastically asked me: “Are you proud of that stutter of yours?”  Since I’m always reminding him that he cannot see too well and that he is dangerous in a power-chair, this well-aimed barb is routine banter between people comfortable with their disabilities.  His comment, however, started me thinking about the incongruity of pride and disability.

It is incongruous to take pride in not being able to do something.  There must be some onlookers at the parade each year asking: What are these “broken-down people” with crutches and in wheelchairs doing marching around proclaiming their pride?  How can they be proud when they can’t do anything for themselves?

Well, that is the point.  Society’s view of people with disabilities can be so negative, so weakening, so smothering of spirit that overcoming that negativity can be empowering and something to be proud about.

As people with disabilities, we put up with so much crap imposed upon us by society, the government, the system, and the people in our lives that it is a wonder that any of us have the energy and initiative to be independent, productive, or active.  

But we are independent, productive, active, and we need to own it and show our pride in what we do!

This applies to every person with a disability no matter what their situation.  Our lives are a precarious “high-wire acts” of low income with under-funded supports that keep us more dependent than independent.  One false step drops us into the abyss of institutional living to be trapped and robbed of personal initiative, independence, and dignity.

Yet every day we get up to perform on the “high wire” defying negative attitudes, preconceptions, prejudices, and fears.  Some do it with drudgery.  Some do it with gusto.  Most people with disabilities live our lives somewhere in between.  We do it every single day.

This is why we should have pride.  This is why we need to display our pride publicly and loudly. This is why we celebrate our pride in ourselves and our community. 

Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02
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“Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

                              

“My Two Cents” – October 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

In early October, HMFA will be putting on the Governor’s Conference on Housing. This is usually a three day affair in Atlantic City, and it gives businesses and agencies such as Project Freedom the opportunity to see the latest products and services in the housing industry, but to also attend the various learning seminars on housing management and financing. It is also an excellent opportunity to meet face to face with HMFA and DCA officials, staff and other agencies, that impact affordable housing in New Jersey.

This year I have been asked to be part of a panel on Supportive Housing in New Jersey, which I have done in the past. This kind of workshop is very timely now since the affordable housing industry has recently faced some significant changes due to the Federal Tax Reform Act passed last year. That act significantly de-valued the price for Tax Credits by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 % down to about 15 %. The net effect was to give a tax break to most corporations, who previously would invest in Tax Credits as a way to reduce their federal tax burden. Since taking effect last year, this new law has significantly lowered the price for tax credits ultimately reducing the total paid by as much as $ 500,000.

For Project Freedom, that reduction in total price paid put a big hole in our financing for our Gibbsboro project. Our investor syndicator did help by scrambling to find some other funds such as the penalty money paid to the Justice Department for claims against some of the largest banks. However, that money was limited and did not provide all the needed funding for this project. We had to do extensive value engineering to our buildings, that is to say, to give up some amenities, so as to bring the cost of the project more in line with our budget or available funds. Now under construction, we are hoping that we can save all of our contingency money so as to put back some of those enhancements.

Couple that issue with the fact that the State of New Jersey’s Budget continues to run a deficit with expected revenues to fall short of the expected spending. In addition, our new governor, Phil Murphy continues to want to increase spending for other social programs without really knowing that the funds will be there for their expense.

Finally, although many towns have settled in court on their Affordable Housing plans for the third Round, there are a number of new proposed bills in the legislature that will impact getting new affordable housing completed. Without giving the bill numbers here, one bill was to have every proposed project do an extensive, and costly, feasibility study before moving ahead.  Another bill wanting to eliminate the PILOT programs that reduce the real estate taxes paid by these affordable housing projects. A third bill would require using Davis Bacon Wage scales to all construction projects that are funded with any federal or State funds. This alone provision would increase the cost of the projects by 30%, and thereby reduce the available funds for more projects.

So, with the fact that the Towns have had to go through the courts in order to get approval of their housing plans, many now are asking for the return of COAH. Funny, what goes around comes around.

America’s Workforce: Empowering All to Work

Join Project Freedom as we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a national campaign to increase awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2018 is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.”

NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”

In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.

In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”

Upon its establishment in 2001, the US Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODP) assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.

For more information, Click Here