“My Two Cents” – September 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Every year, Marion and I and Tracee Battis, our Director of Housing Development, attend the Governor’s Conference on Housing, which is  always held in Atlantic City.  Now I know what you are thinking, not much work goes on during that time, but probably lots of gambling.  Not so with me however.  I learned a long time ago that no one wins against the House.  So, what I usually wind of doing is spending those dollars in the gift shop rather than at the blackjack table.  At least that way, I bring home something for my son or daughter.

This year, I have been asked to be a part of a panel discussion on Supportive Housing.  That means that I have to actually prepare a powerpoint presentation about Project Freedom Housing and why we think our housing is a preferred design when compared to other alternatives.

This is easy for me to do, since I live this job every day, and have a good idea as to what is successful and what is not.  And the truth is it is really simple.  Project Freedom housing is barrier free design, makes it easy for anyone to live in one of our communities.  Whether you use a wheelchair or not, anyone can appreciate the functionality that our housing creates.  Our units are larger than most, to accommodate a wheelchair; usually one story, or if two story, provide elevators in each building.  They have lowered kitchen cabinets, ADA appliances, use sustainable outside  materials and are Energy Efficient to the latest Energy Standards.  Today, our new units are even LEED’s certifiable. 

But I think the most important part of this story, is that our units are built with the understanding that we are creating the most independent environment possible.  Our homes are for those individuals who are capable of independence and in making their own life choices.  They are not group homes, that are run by one agency, which have caretakers that oversee everyone’s actions.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the group home model, which does fit a certain target population.  But our units are for that person, who although may be severely disabled, can make their own free choices, and can therefore live an independent lifestyle.  All our tenants have leases, which give them certain rights and responsibilities for their apartment.  They pay a rent, and for that, Project Freedom provides good housing, shovels the snow in the winter, and cuts the grass in the summer.  We also fix anything that goes down in the units under normal course of business.

In the old days, prior to Project Freedom housing, the choices were very limited to someone who uses a wheelchair.  Either a nursing home or hospital were all that was available.  Not a good choice for someone in their twenties. 

Now however, things are different.  Our housing model has spurred other developers to at least build more units that are accessible within their market rate housing.  That housing, along with our barrier free housing model are helping to increase the choices for independence that all people what to enjoy.

“My Two Cents” – August 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

“What goes around, comes around.” 

“What once was old is now new.”       

I am sure we have all heard theses phrases before, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I am referring to issues revolving around Affordable Housing in New Jersey.

Yesterday I attended an open hearing of the Assembly Committee Housing.  The committee members were called together by chairman Benjie Wimberly (D. Passaic) to discuss the state of affordable housing and the complaints of several Towns about the burden that affordable housing will place on their towns.  This is the result of COAH not passing third round rules back in 2015, so the Towns have had to go to the Courts to resolve these issues.  Most have settled with Fair Share Housing and have had their affordable housing plans approved by the Courts, however with numbers that they still don’t like.  And so, a call for a return of COAH to administer these plans and settle these issues.

That would be all well and good, if COAH had been allowed to work as it originally was set up.  In the early days, the COAH board was a bi-partisan Board and would work with towns to discuss their affordable housing issues and ultimately arrive at a settlement.  However, the towns still railed against having to do their housing obligations, so then governor Christi’ sought to marginalize COAH to the point that it was no longer able to function.  Ultimately, The Supreme Court ruled that until COAH is reconstituted, Towns would have to have their housing plans certified by the courts.  So that is where we are today.

Settling through the Courts was always an option, however today it is the place of last resort, so that Towns now must finally settle, establish their plans and then help to get the construction done.  This is what they don’t like.  At yesterday’s hearing, I heard a lot of statements from the members of the committee, as well as from the mayors of many towns, of how they support affordable housing      however they are worried that they don’t have sufficient infrastructure within their towns, to manage this new growth.  They fear overbuilding of the town, overcrowding in their schools, and higher taxes.  All this really without having any new construction being built yet. 

So, this clearly is still a very big issue for towns in New Jersey.  We are yet to hear about the new Governor’s position on Affordable Housing.  Will the Governor re-institute COAH or a like body that will take up these issues and remove them from the courts.  Or will he allow the process to run its course, through the judicial system, ultimately having judges making the decisions as a Town’s      affordable housing plans.

My experience has been that even when COAH was an active body, some towns would still delay, and throw up barriers as to why they couldn’t comply with the law.  However, with the issues in the hands of the courts, Towns have been forced to settle and move on.  My recommendation would be to stay the course, allow the Courts to do their job, and settle these issues.  No longer are towns     allowed to get away with delay after delay, hoping for some governor or new legislature to change the law.  Given some time, we will begin to see new housing develop that will ease the burden of those who need it.  Finding decent and affordable housing should be something that we should all support.

My Two Cents – July 2018

Well it’s that time of year again, when the Governor and the State Legislature argue over the State Budget, which must be passed by June 30.  If not, then the government is supposed to shut down.

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Now the Governor has said that he doesn’t want to pass a budget that doesn’t have a realistic forecast that shows that the revenue to support the budget will indeed come in.  He acknowledges that other governors have played games with the budget, often presenting very optimistic forecasts as to the amount of revenue that the State would generate, only to fall very short of that forecast,  thereby having a severe shortfall at the end of the year.   This is why he advocates for higher taxes which only further burden the citizens of New Jersey– A state that is the sixth most expensive state in which to live.

The opposition both from the Democrats and Republicans are urging some combination of tax cuts also with some tax increases.  The problem is that the Governor has laid out such ambitious goals and has promised increased spending almost across the board, that there doesn’t seem to be any amount of money sufficient to pay for his new programs.

Along with this scenario, is the fact that the Governor wants to confiscate the money which is still in the municipal housing trust fund accounts, to help balance his State budget.  These funds were raised as fees paid by for profit developers when they build commercial and market rate housing.  They cannot be used for anything else but affordable housing, however, in the past governors have taken similar monies from dedicated fund accounts.  Witness the gasoline tax, which was only    supposed to fund repairs to our roadways, but has often found itself being put into the general fund to balance the budget.  As a result, this past year, that tax was raised.

Furthermore, as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling with regard to COAH and the municipality’s affordable housing obligations, municipalities need those funds more than ever now, in order to fund their required housing needs.  Without these funds, towns could legitimately tell the court that they are unable to comply because the State has confiscated their housing trust funds.  These funds   survived the several attempts of the Christi Administration to scarf them up, so it would be a shame for the new Democratic governor to now arbitrarily do that now.

So, a call to action is needed.  Call you State lawmakers and tell them that you don’t want those funds put into the General Budget but to be used for what they were intended—and that is creating more affordable housing.

 

“My Two Cents” – June 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

From time to time, I write a column on the status of our affordable housing situation that is playing out now in New Jersey.  Since the Supreme Court’s ruling that COAH was defunct in 2015, Towns have been required to work out their “Round Three” obligations in the courts.  Most towns have settled, and have entered into an agreement with Fair Share Housing but still a good many have not, so this process now is shaping up to be a rather lengthy one.  Based on recent court rulings, especially one from Judge Mary Jacobson, in Mercer County, the courts are not    letting the towns off the hook—with many judgements requiring more units than if the towns had settled their cases in the first place.

In many of these settlements, the Court is requiring that the Towns provide the “ reasonable opportunity “ for housing to be built, which also mandates that the Towns provide some kind of financing, or contribution to these projects, in order for them to truly be built.  Many towns have used their affordable Housing Trust Funds for this financing, and as a result have no moneys left for future housing needs.  About half of the towns have not completely used up their funds, and as a result the State of New Jersey estimates that there is about $46 million in these municipal trust fund accounts which could be used for that purpose.  These funds were raised when A500 was passed and allowed the municipalities to charge a 2% fee on all commercial new construction.  The law specifically mandated that these funds had to be maintained in separate accounts and could only be used for the creation and support of affordable housing.

Two years ago, then Governor Chris Christi tried to take those remaining unused funds to balance his State Budget, however the Courts ruled against his doing so.  Many towns also placed those existing funds into new accounts, which were not reported to the State.  Now, when towns very much need these funds to complete their affordable housing plans, the present governor, Phil Murphy, is again trying to take those funds to offset his current State budget deficit.  His plan is to move those funds over to the Department of Human Services which would thereby reduce what he would have to provide from the general State budget—not what the funds were intended to be used for.

Now we have heard this kind of proposal before.  The legislature will pass a particular bill to remedy a specific need, but then when some other perceived crisis seems to occur, the moneys are funneled back into the State general fund, where the Governor can use as he pleases.  This is simply not right.  The Affordable Housing Trust Fund moneys should only be used for their stated purpose—that is to build affordable housing—not to be a substitute for the funding of a specific State Department or agency.

Now this argument is hard for me to make, since funding Human Services is something close to my heart and the consumers and tenants of Project Freedom.  However having a place to live is equally important, and  using these funds to replace original Human Service funding is not what should be done.  Some would call this process, “sleight of hand”  or robbing “Peter to pay Paul.”  Also, it is disingenuous to change the purpose for taxation, from its original intent, to then use those funds to shore up the State budget.  The Legislature needs to tell Governor Murphy, NO, that these funds need to be used only for the creation of affordable housing, otherwise New Jersey will continue to fall further and further behind on this issue, and towns will never have the resources to fulfill their stated housing plans.

 

“My Two Cents” – May 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Project Freedom continues to grow our housing units by partnering with several   local municipalities in Mercer County as well as those from across the State.  Over time we have modified our housing design and amenities to better reflect the needs and wants of our tenant consumers.  Our target population has also changed from strictly the physically disabled to also include “regular” non-disabled folks and their families.  So, now, we do house families with children and folks who may not be  disabled.  This is because our State, New Jersey, like so many other states, have recognized that inclusionary housing, that is disabled and non-disabled provides a better more natural and wholesome environment for everyone to live.

Although recognizing this kind of change, we still have continued to make our disabled population a priority.  That means we continue to build and design all of our units as accessible, so that someone who uses a wheelchair can easily manage any of our apartments.  Anyone can use the roll in showers, the lowered  countertops and the accessible kitchens and appliances.  Our overall site topography is also created so that there are no serious hills or slopes for which a wheelchair would find difficult to manage.

We also are trying to use less land as the large sites are also much more expensive to develop….more roads and sidewalk to build and maintain.  So, in order to maintain our numbers, we are designing a three story building, with elevator, that can provide cost savings overall.  We are hoping that these changes will enhance our building design while creating a lower overall cost.

The emphasis on cost reduction is because of the change in the new Federal Tax Law, which has reduced the tax liability for large companies and investors from 35 % to 21%.  By doing so, this change has reduced the value of the Tax Credit pricing over .05 Cents on the dollar, which overall can mean we lose about $500,000 for our projects.  This loss means that we need to become much more efficient, overall, when   budgeting for our projects.  The trick here is to figure out what to eliminate without compromising quality and valued amenities.

By building a three story building, rather than a two story, and reducing the total number of buildings from six to four, we hope to save around 20% of the cost of our project costs.  These are changes that we need to do, in order to keep within our available funding.  Along with these negative pressures on funding, we are seeing more and more demands from local towns to fulfill their affordable housing requirements, which is a positive change.  The Affordable Housing issue is currently being dealt with in the courts, with judges       negotiating the final numbers.  And from what we are seeing, those towns that don’t settle along the way, are getting higher final quotes on housing than they like.  This is what is fueling the current demand for   affordable housing in New Jersey towns. 

So, Project Freedom continues to change and adapt to the current housing market in order to continue to serve our Mission. 

 

“My Two Cents” – February 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As we start the new year (2018), it has been over two years since the New Jersey Supreme Court took the power of making decisions regarding affordable housing, out of the hands of the COAH Board, and into the respective courts of jurisdiction.  So, the question to be asked and answered is has this been a better alternative moving us forward, or has it just delayed and set the affordable housing issue back to the drawing board.  My answer to that is that some progress has been made although it has taken a lot of time to get where we are right now.

A little history is in order to set the stage.  Sometime in 2008, the COAH board had set out to establish its third round of rules for affordable housing.  This had been done twice before, ergo first round and second round.  The third round rules passed however were challenged in the courts and after several years, portions of those rules were rejected, and a portion was upheld.  COAH then   attempted again to revise their rules and after several false starts, a new set was proposed by the administration, who was under the judicial gun to make a decision.  Finally, the COAH Board did vote to turn down those proposed rules, in spite of the courts pressure, which brought the issue before the NJ Supreme Court.  That Court decided that COAH, now was defunct and not able to operate, so that all issues of affordable housing would have to be solved within the court of jurisdiction for that town.  As a result, most towns filed their declaration of judgement in court, which has given them   immunity from a builders lawsuit until their cases could be heard.

So, that is what has been going on for the past two years, with towns having to submit their new   COAH plans which now are to go to the year 2025.  ( 2015 to 2025 – 10 years ).  Some towns have combined their efforts to fight these new requirements, while others have worked to settle.  Overall, the majority of towns have worked to settle these lawsuits by submitting their new affordable housing plans.  As a result, Project Freedom has gotten called into some of these towns for new future      projects.  One of those new towns is Robbinsville, coincidently where Project Freedom built it’s very first housing project.  Another town is Hamilton, again where we also have a presence.  Both towns recognize the demand for barrier free housing, and have been supporters of our disabled clients. 

This certainly is gratifying to know that these two towns think that much of Project Freedom to include us in their new housing plans for the future.  This is also a result of having the issue of affordable housing finally being settled within the structure of the court system.  In the past, when the Towns would come before COAH, they could easily delay their responses and would take months if not years to address what should have been settled months earlier.  And since COAH had no real police power, there was basically nothing that COAH could do to make them comply.

 

“My Two Cents” – January 2018

As I write these words, it is the day after Christmas, so all the parties, have come and gone, with only memories of those good times.  It indeed has been a wonderful year, for which we at Project

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Freedom have a lot to be thankful.  This year, we obtained our funding for two new projects, one in West Windsor and one in Gibbsboro.  Staff will soon be working to make them a reality, which will provide needed barrier free housing for many of our consumers.  We must have had our guardian angels working overtime for us to win those funding awards this year, which was quite extraordinary.

And speaking of Angels, at Project Freedom communities we have always been grateful for our “community angels” throughout the years, who provide special programs to our consumers throughout the year. 

  • At Robbinsville, The Resurrection Lutheran Church gives gifts to tenants at Easter as well as hosting our Thanksgiving dinner and Labor Day picnic, open to all tenants there. 
  • In Hamilton, the Nottingham Women’s Club donates a $25 Gift card to all the tenants there at Christmas Time.
  • In Hopewell, Merrill Lynch provides a ” Giving Tree” with Christmas gifts to each family there as well as food for many families during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Our Woodstown Community had a holiday food delivery to several tenants thanks to Franklin Savings Bank, and the Woodstown Police Department, and Meals on Wheels provided large gift bags to their Meal recipients.
  • In Lawrence, the Menges family donated personalized gift bags for all our tenants there, as well as helped with our annual Christmas party. They, along with Deborah Hospital donated Christmas gifts for our Chinese Auction, allowing many tenants to go home with more than one gift.  The students from Sommerville High School come down to help serve as waiters and waitresses, and escort tenants home or deliver gifts to those who couldn’t come out.  We even had the Lawrence Community Band give a holiday concert, with attendance from our other Mercer County communities, for a great night of Christmas music. 
  • In Toms River and Westampton, our two newest communities, PFI has provided the means to hold a Christmas party so all could enjoy the holidays.

So, a lot to be thankful for.  For me, these things don’t just happen.  I am pleased to have a great staff, who orchestrate, coordinate and work, those days….all with a smile on their faces, to provide these memorable events.  So, I would like to give a big “thank you” to them:  Lawrence: Joanne, Brie, Ross, Joe and Johnny; Hamilton and Robbinsville:  Jackie, Melinda, Mary, Esther, Judy, Dana, Maria, Doug, Ed, John and Ron; Hopewell: Ceil, Jennifer, Jen, Frank and Damien; Toms River: Laurie, Joyce, Jim and Al; Woodstown:  Sammi, Arlene, Mike and John; Westampton:  Dara, Savanah, Tony and  Leonard.  And of course our executive staff: Norman, Steve,  Frank, Tracee, Marion, Heather and Sakina.

And finally, to our Board of Trustees, who consistently meet every month to provide support and     continue the mission of Project Freedom, now and into the future.  Many thanks to all.                   Happy New Year.

 

“My Two Cents” – December 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well Christmas is right around the corner and for many of us, it revolves around the tasks of shopping for that special gift.  Shopping for family and friends, can really get expensive, however many times giving doesn’t require money.  It can be as simple as making a phone call to our Mom or Dad or a friend, to just wish them a Merry Christmas and to say “ how are you”. Giving is really what Christmas is all about, and it is something that we can all do. 

Recently, I hooked up with an old high school classmate, who is recently disabled and who uses a wheelchair full time.   Prior to becoming disabled, Ed was a policeman, a building contractor and a private investigator.  A man of many talents.  Ed also has a love of animals and nature, and has chosen to use his Facebook and blog pages to advertise pet adoptions in this area.  Ed will include photos of these animals on his postings, with a little description of each pet.  Getting out the word is how Ed has managed to save many of these stray animals.  Not only is Ed providing a great service to the local animal shelter, it is very satisfying for him knowing that he is contributing something back to society.

My other friend, Mike, who is not disabled, is always involved in some community activity.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, he organized our church in the delivery of turkey meals to over 170 local folks, replacing the Meals on Wheels that day.  For years, he and his two boys would collect food donations to bring to the local shelter, and he has always taught his kids that it was better to give than to receive. 

I once heard it said that the most precious thing that we possess is our time.  Spending our time to comfort someone or just to talk with our friend, who may be down, is something that really costs us nothing, but can be so important to those who we comfort.  Even not saying a word, at times, but just being there for that person, can mean so much to them, especially in their time of need.

For Christians, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, someone who cares very much for others.

So, when you spend your Christmas this year, take time to reach out to someone you haven’t  spoken to in a while, and let them know that you are interested in how they are doing.  You never know, you might stumble upon a new friend, someone who you would be glad to know, and who would be glad to know you.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

 

“My Two Cents” November 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well, we are one week away from our Angel Award Dinner, and staff are busy pulling all the last minute details together.  Thanks to Board member Karol Moss for heading up this committee and for providing the leadership for this event once again.

At this year’s Gala, we are honoring two Mercer County mayor’s–

Robbinsville Mayor David Fried, with our June Ronan Angel Award, and West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh with our Freedom Bell Award.  Both are elected officials for their respective towns. 

As we have done in years past, our Angel Award remembers June Ronan, Norman’s cousin who was instrumental in establishing Project Freedom in the early days.  We honor others in her name, like Mayor Fried, for his support for Project Freedom programs and for people with disabilities.  What is most unique about what Mayor Fried has done, is that he has transformed his yearly State of the Township Report into a fundraising event that raises money to help someone in need.  Created in 2015, the Mayor calls this program, “Pay It Forward”, in which the funds raised at the event, go to provide some specific need in the community of Robbinsville. 

In years past, he has raised money to purchase a wheelchair accessible van for our Robbinsville tenant Trey Shepherd, as well as making renovations to the home of Debbie Dauer, a Sharon School teacher who has  ALS.  Over the past three years, his program has raised over $100,000 for individuals connected to  Robbinsville that were in need.  A very creative way to present the Township Report and help someone in the process. 

Likewise, Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh has continued his steadfast support for a Project Freedom    community within West Windsor, since 2006.  Under his leadership, an appropriate site was     identified for our project, arrangements were made to purchase this site for our community and     $250,000 was contributed to help pay for the engineering and architectural costs so that we could get our project approved by the planning board.  In the world of Township politics, these are almost super human accomplishments.  Thanks to Mayor Hsueh, our West Windsor construction will start sometime in early March 2018.

Our other honorees are two Project Freedom tenants who have both achieved their independence despite some difficult challenges—Jaime Hooker and Bill Manzo.  Both are great examples of people who don‘t give up, but rather contribute back to society.

And finally, our Employee of the Year Award this year goes to our Woodstown Social Service     Coordinator, Sammi DeMaris.  Located in Salem County, Sammi has managed our furthermost site since 2009, with a very minimum amount of support from our central office.  It is very gratifying for me, as the boss, to know that our communities are in good hands and having Sammi in Woodstown is most reassuring.

So, our Angel Award Dinner is slated for November 11 and there is still time to call for tickets ( 609 ) 278-0075.  Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

“My Two Cents – October 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, one of the hot topics today in our country, is the use of “Free Speech” which is guaranteed by our Constitution and First Amendment.  Usually this revolves around some kind of protest or some action that certain groups are usually against.  Recently we have seen this in protests involving racial equality and the mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement officials.  Today, it is often said that we are a divided nation, yet when disaster struck in the form of hurricane Irma in Texas, Jose in Florida, and Maria in Puerto Rico,  American’s came together to help one another.  So, this begs the question, on what level are we divided and again, on what level are we united?

Let’s also keep in mind that our nation was founded upon a rebellion from a foreign nation that wanted to control the destiny of our citizens.  So, controversy is a part of our national make up.  For sure, even our founding fathers, were not always united in the cause to break from Great Britain.  There continued to be disagreements during the revolution, with some remaining loyal to the Crown.  In the end, we did come together as a people and formed a unity of states–a United States.

Today, the most recent controversy, comes from the NFL, with players and coaches “ taking a knee” during the singing of our national anthem.  This lack of respect for our flag is to show that not all of us agree with what is happening in our nation today.  Certainly, our country is still struggling with racial equality and treatment of minorities. Our history here has not been good.  But I honestly don’t know from these protests exactly what they are pointing to and how we are to address these issues.

But our flag and the national anthem represent many different aspects of America, so much more, most of which are good.  We are the land of opportunity, which is why so many immigrants want to come to our country.  Our freedom’s  have provided the wealth, which most of these NFL player protesters enjoy today—each and every one who “took a knee” are millionaires.  And let’s not forget all the men and women, minorities included who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country.  Disrespecting the Flag and our anthem, disrespects those folks as well.

Finally, isn’t there some other way to raise a voice in protest rather than to disrespect our flag?  Maybe the NFL could sponsor a dialogue prior to the games, which offers speakers the opportunity to make their case, and call attention to injustice.  Or donate funds to inner city schools, or revitalize poor neighborhoods, or sponsor police education programs.  I just think that much more constructive action could be taken that would help to heal and mend these wounds, than by protesting the singing of our national anthem, or our flag, symbols that represent us all.

Tim Doherty, Executive Director