“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

“My Two Cents” – September 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

I have exciting news to report.  The governor announced last Friday, the Low Income Tax Credit Awards for this year, and Project Freedom has won for both our new projects—West Windsor and Gibbsboro.  Hooray.

This is by no means an easy task, and in the past, we have only been able to get one of our submitted projects the award, so to get both is quite a feat.  So, before I go too far, I need to thank our Director of Development Tracee Battis and her assistant, Marion Doherty, along with CFO Steve Schaefer for all their hard work on making those applications a success.  And a very big thank you to our Board of Trustees who has steadfastly supported our efforts to develop affordable housing in New Jersey under the leadership of Board Chair, Herb Schneider.  It certainly was a team effort.

So, a little about where and what these two communities will be.  Our setting in West Windsor is off of Old Bear Brook Road and it will be adjacent to the Enclave by Toll.  Our project will mirror our buildings at Hopewell, two story, 12 unit buildings– all barrier free with an elevator in each.  We will also have a large community center for tenant and civic activities.  This site is about ½ mile from the train station which makes it ideal for someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility.  The Enclave will contain long term suites, townhomes and apartments and some light retail commercial buildings.  We hope to start construction in early 2018, with completion in Spring of 2019.

Our second project is located in Gibbsboro, Camden County, in South Jersey, off of route 561.  Gibbsboro is a quaint little town set around Silver Lake which is a beautiful setting for our housing, and next door to Voorhees Township.  It is known historically as the headquarters for the Sherwin Williams Paint company which moved out of the area years ago.  Gibbsboro is in the process of  developing the area around the lake, which will create housing and retail, consistent with the character of the town.

Both projects have been in the works for over ten years.  I remember traveling to Gibbsboro in the late 1990’s working with the town fathers and their planner to identify a possible site.  During those years, Gibbsboro had been in litigation with Brandywine Corporation, a large real estate developer, that was proposing high density housing for the lake area.  Ultimately the Town won, and have worked to develop a plan that will continue to maintain the local town flavor and not compromise on traffic and safety.  Our site will create 72 rental apartments, one, two and three bedroom units, on three floors within four buildings.  We will be part of the town’s bike and walk path, throughout the town and should contribute at least 95 COAH credits for Gibbsboro’s affordable housing plan.

Our West Windsor site, will also have 72 units and look exactly like our Hopewell Freedom Village.  We are excited with the fact that this location is so close to the train station, and will provide an  increase in mobility to anyone who uses a wheelchair.  Also, this location will lend itself to access to the city of Princeton and all that goes with it.

Lastly, I need to mention the tremendous help and cooperation we received from both towns toward making our project a success.  Both towns provided tremendous help with our planning effort, the passing and approvals in a timely manner.  West Windsor even provided the land along with some seed money which helped enormously in making our project work financially.  So, our task now is to create housing that both towns can be proud to have in their communities that will include people from all walks of life.  Our mission continues.

 

“My Two Cents” – August 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director
Recently, our family went on a summer vacation to Florida, to our favorite place—Walt Disney World. This required that we get on a plane for the two hour ride from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida. In the past, when the kids were young, we were able to use the bathrooms on the flight, even though they are not even big enough for one person, let alone a mother and her daughter. Today, however things are different. Jen is a woman, with a disability, who needs a handicapped bathroom. Guess what? There aren’t any on short flights such as these.

This is something that I was amazed to find out, and that is that on most short domestic flights in the US, most of the planes flying those routes are Airbus 320 which only have very small standard lavatories—none for disabled people. In addition, originally, airlines were exempted from the Americans with Disabilities Act until it was revised in 1986 under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, which has required accessible lavatories on the wider- twin aisle planes. The DOT has an Access Advisory Committee which has been studying changes to the current law that would require more accessibility on the single-aisle planes such as the 737 or the A320.

Even the larger planes which fly overseas on long trips, don’t really have the kind of accessible lavatories that a disabled person needs. Most reports that I have read state that these lavatories are still too small to get a regular size wheelchair in, for someone to transfer out of and onto the toilet. Many folks with a disability claim to dehydrate the day prior to a flight, so that they will not have to use the restrooms on a plane. This seems ridiculous knowing that the airlines have made concessions to people so as to bring their companion animals on the flight with them. These “service” animals are important to that person, however I would think that solving the bathroom issue would be paramount to the companion issue.

‘Suffice it to say, Jen was okay for our trip, having taking care of business prior to our flight. One thing to note, however is that there are more delays today on flights, which can add to the time, someone is forced to sit on the plane. Our flight out of Philadelphia was delayed over an hour going out, and two hours coming back—time which could be made more difficult for someone with a disability who is unable to use the lavatory on a plane.

This condition is really unacceptable. I know friends who use a wheelchair and simply don’t fly anymore, because of the embarrassment or inconvenience of having to be “loaded” on the plane and into a seat by way of an aisle chair. This is more like a hand truck for packages than for people. Also, those who use a power chair, and try to take that chair on the plane, have found it to be completely destroyed, leaving them without their most precious asset.

This really is a call to action. We all need to let our Federal Legislators know that this present condition is unacceptable, and that people with mobility issues have the right to travel just like anyone else.

“My Two Cents” – July 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director
We recently took a family vacation to Florida, which required that we travel on a plane. Anyone who is disabled, and who has had the experience of traveling on an airplane will fully understand what I am about to say. What a nightmare.

First of all, if you use a wheelchair you just can’t get on the plane, like anyone else. The airline will have to use an isle chair to get you to your seat. Suffice it to say, you are loaded on this “chair”, strapped in like a piece of luggage, and carted down that very narrow isle, until you arrive at your seat. Then if you need assistance to transfer, you will need your PCA or a family member to help get you into the seat. Of course, the seat is very narrow, so if you are like me, and have a little excess “baggage”, it requires a little shimmy to get finally settled. Once settled in, you hope that they put your manual chair on the plane as well, otherwise you are stuck when you finally arrive at your destination.
And as if that is not humiliating enough, don’t try to use the bathroom on the plane, because it isn’t accessible—for anyone, let alone someone who uses a wheelchair. Now most able bodied people can get into the bathroom however it is just impossible for someone who uses a wheelchair to get in at all. So that begs the question, if you have to go, what do you do?

So my next question, is why with the ADA and all the laws on the books about equality and treating the disabled with the same rights as anyone else, how can the airlines get away with this? The answer is that the airlines are EXEMPT from certain portions of the ADA, and making airplanes accessible is one of them.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act ( ACAA ) single isle planes built prior to 1992 are not required to have an accessible bathroom. These are the planes most used on Domestic flights (airbus 300 series). Planes built after 1992, with twin isles, are required to have at least one accessible lavatory, complete with door lock, accessible call button, and grab bars. Planes that travel overseas, on longer flights are also required to have an accessible lavatory. However, even on those planes that do have an “accessible” lavatory, most disabled say that they still can’t use that lavatory, because there are no specifications about height or placement of grab bars that are required to be used by the airplane manufacturers. As a result, the airlines can interpret these regulations to fit their own benefit. And we all know that creating bigger, accessible bathrooms on airplanes will take away precious seats, which means a loss of revenue. Something needs to be done about this condition. I plan to write to my congressman and will join with other advocacy groups to force the airlines to make changes so that anyone who uses a wheelchair, will also be able to use the bathroom on an airplane in flight.