“My Two Cents” August 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Many of you know that our daughter, Jen is disabled and lives at our Hopewell Project Freedom community.  Jen started her adult life in 2003 when she moved into our Lawrence site, and lived there until    moving to Hopewell in 2015.  So, since that time, she has been for the most part, on her own, with Mom and Dan providing emergency support when needed.  Having that personal care support has been critical to her living successfully on her own, out in the community, as well as for many of our tenant consumers.

I have often been asked why Project Freedom didn’t provide that service along with our housing.  This is usually the case with agencies that provide and run, Group Homes.  The Group Home model works very well for many disabled consumers, and it consists of three or four unrelated individuals who live at the home with a care giver.  These homes usually provide 24/7 care by a live in aide or aides, and for many families, this model works very well.  The only problem comes when a consumer is not happy with the care provider, and wants to change that provider.  To do that may require moving to    another location or to another different service provider, something that most consumers do not wish to do.

When Project Freedom set out to create our housing, we sought the ability for the consumer to have the most independence possible.  In essence to be “Master of his/her own universe” and to choose how one would live life with as much independence as possible.  If the person needed personal     assistance, then it was up to them to choose and decide who they would work with and with what  agency. 

At Project Freedom housing,  the individual is not tied to one particular living situation but can change service providers at any time.  The only thing we require is that they pay their rent and their  utilities, and obey our housing rules, which is what is required at any apartment complex.  This promotes independence and choice for our consumers without the risk of losing their present housing or apartment if they choose a different personal care provider.

Finally, those of us who are part of the disability community and those families served, need to recognize the tremendous service that these personal care workers provide to our loved ones.  Because of their efforts, they contribute to the independence and freedom that our families and consumers enjoy.  Furthermore, these workers are not paid a rate of pay that reflects their worth, and often have to work two jobs today to make ends meet.  These folks are also our “ Front Line workers “ who have had to meet the demands of today’s COVID -19 days, with their service in our hospitals and other vital service areas. 

So, hats off to all those who serve in this line of work—you need to know that because you are out the

“My Two Cents” – June 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

During this time of the pandemic, many functions and events have been forced to cancel or re-schedule for maybe another time.  One of the most heartbreaking is the cancelling of graduation for all our students, robbing them of the chance to relish their achievements.  And as sad as that is, every generation has been forced to endure some kind of  interruption from events out of their control. This happened to my father in law when he was called up for WWII. 

 My son recently wrote about his own graduation which he had coupled with his grandfather, 50 years later.

 

Graduation Moments Deferred
Written by Tim Doherty Jr.

Graduates in the class of 2020 are missing out on one of the great rites of passage. Never in the past would we have thought the ability to stand on a stage in a gymnasium or on a football field filled with our peers and families would seem like such a privilege, but alas only in loss do we sometimes see the value of what we had. While the ceremony itself adds little to the educational accomplishments of the class, that ‘graduation moment’ somehow acknowledges, celebrates and completes the work of the student, allowing them to begin their next chapter.

While the pandemic is itself without precedent, its disruption to our important life events isn’t. I offer a story of a graduate who also didn’t cross that stage with his peers, but instead got a more personal opportunity to celebrate his accomplishments.

My grandfather, James Wilson, completed his engineering degree at Lehigh University in 1944. His Lehigh experience was one of a poor kid, commuting from a nearby town, during the tumultuous war years. Everything was focused on the war, even the academic year was altered to a trimester schedule to speed the process of minting graduates for the war effort.

In his last semester, he was selected for an assignment in the Merchant Marine, took his finals a few weeks early and shipped out before commencement ceremonies were held. Like so many who sacrificed greatly for the defense of our country, he never dwelled on missing graduation, but it was none-the-less a part of his story. His degree arrived in the mail in a cardboard tube.

Fifty plus years later, I began my own Lehigh education and grandpa got to observe a different version of ‘the college experience’. I lived in a dorm and enjoyed campus life, and grandpa was a frequent visitor and supporter. We enjoyed sharing Lehigh and although already close, were brought closer by this shared bond.

When it came time for me to graduate, I contacted the university president who agreed to the idea– grandpa should walk in commencement ceremonies with me. It took a little prodding from my grandmother to get him to agree because he didn’t want to take away from my graduation. But I can honestly say it was a far more special day because he participated. After my name was called and I walked across the stage, shook the hand of the University president and received my degree, I turned around just as the announcer read “James Francis Wilson.” Immediately, the whole arena roared with applause and the crowd gave the 75 year old graduate a standing ovation as grandpa finally had his ‘graduation moment’.

While it’s impossible to know what either my or my grandfathers graduations would have been like otherwise, the circumstances of his commencement deferred gave us a special opportunity to personalize our experience. I offer this story because it might be the case for the class of 2020 that your ‘graduation moment’, although deferred, is now yours to choose. Perhaps instead of video commencement or drive thru graduation, the best idea is to offer the class of 2020 the opportunity to participate in a future ceremony (hopefully not 50 years later), maybe with a sibling or at a particular reunion anniversary– whatever might make it even more meaningful to the individual. I hope the administration of schools and universities will give this some consideration, so that instead of the class of 2020 being the class who didn’t have a graduation, they’ll be the class who got to have their ‘graduation moment’ on their own terms.

 

 

“My Two Cents” – July 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

These past months have been some very difficult ones, having to deal with this Covid-19 virus.  Many of us have had to schedule work hours so that we would reduce the likelihood of personal interactions with others.  We have reduced our general freedom to travel or visit, opting for staying home, or at least limiting the places that we go to.  My day out seems to be our weekly visit to the grocery store, then back home.  So, for me, work, home or grocery store, and that has been it.

For those who have been laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced, that has also reduced the amount of income they are now getting.  For some of our tenants this is true.  Yet we are constantly    approached by outside agencies and groups who perceive the need, and then try to answer the call.

At Project Freedom we have been fortunate to have some local agencies provide food and other household goods for our tenants.  The local organization called “Arm in Arm” has, on a regular basis, dropped off bags of groceries for our tenants.  They have delivered to all of our Mercer County sites several times during this pandemic. 

Another local agency, the Jewish Family & Children‘s Service  (JFCS) has also brought food    supplies to our Mercer County sites with their mobile Food Truck. They were referred to us by Board member, Bob Buda Jr. who helped us with their connection.   We received a check for $1,500 from the local Princeton Corridor Rotary for tenant supplies and our local pizzeria, in conjunction with Nottingham Insurance Agency, Varsity Pizza also brought 42 pizzas, last Thursday, for our tenants at Lawrenceville. 

These good works continue to happen as we make our way through this pandemic.  Americans have   always risen to the occasion when necessary, and we are seeing that today.  That is why, through this column, I want to publicly thank Beth Englezos of the JFCS, David R. Fox of Arm in Arm and members  of the Princeton Corridor Rotary for their support in these challenging times. And to small business owners, such as Kevin Murphy of Varsity Pizza and Jack and Greg Blair from Nottingham Insurance for their community support and their work for Project Freedom.  We will survive this virus and come back stronger as a community and nation.  So, for now, let’s just take care of one another.

 

“My Two Cents” – May 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Seems like forever that we have been able to go to a retail store or go out to a restaurant for dinner. Because of the COVID-19 virus, Only essential businesses are allowed to stay open, with staff working shifts so as not to have a crowd of people in one office or conference center at a time.  Many small businesses are closed such as hair salons, barber shops, spas, and small retail boutiques, with many pizza shops and small restaurants only doing take out service.  Even weddings have been cancelled, and funerals services have been truncated, with only immediate family members in attendance.  All of us, obeying the Executive Order from Governor Murphy which has effectively shut down New Jersey for a month now.  Is this now the new normal? 

Now some folks would say that the closing of the State was a drastic action, and something maybe the Governor didn’t have to do.  Of course, it is always easy to second guess, after the fact and be a Monday Morning quarterback.  However the fact remains that New Jersey has been one of the hardest hit states, along with New York, that have suffered the greatest effects of this pandemic.  Next to New York, New Jersey has had the most cases per capita of infection, and I believe the most deaths due to this virus, than most other states in the US.  This COVID-19 Virus is nothing to fool around with, and not something to take lightly.

So, for a month now, we have been inside, sheltering in place, many working from home when we can.  For Project Freedom Inc., we have shut our community centers and put staff on rotating work schedules so that we could avoid any large groupings, and thereby reduce our chances of interaction.  Staff still monitors the phones, but we are only really attending to emergency maintenance issues.  Now that the weather is getting warmer, there will be grass cutting and      outside maintenance being done at the properties, so that work needs to be kept up with, otherwise it can get out of hand.  PFI staff is still available for help if tenants need anything and continue to check on many of our tenants.

So, as of the Governor’s latest news conference, he has laid out several conditions that would need to be in place before he will lift the “stay at home order”.  These conditions are a reduction in new COVID-19 cases, more testing of healthcare workers and then the public in general, along with the reduction in hospitalizations.  The Governor is still undecided if he will allow schools to reopen this current school year, which really needs to be done for most people to go back to work.  What is feared mos is for the virus to have a comeback when business is open again; thereby losing all the gains achieved by staying at home.

So, let’s all continue to do our part.  Wash our hands, wear our masks, stay 6 feet away and avoid any large crowds.  By doing so, we will protect ourselves as well as one another.  And, also keep the faith.  We will get through this in time for sure… America has done it in the past, and we will continue in the future. 

 

“My Two Cents” — March 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well when I first heard this news, I smiled and said, ”of course, we are the perfect venue for this kind of news.” 

 
And the news was that NJHMFA wants to announce a new program of financing that will help to fund Special Needs Housing and wanted to do it at our new West Windsor housing community. So, we were honored to have Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver and HMFA Executive  Director Charles A. Richman combine their announcement with our ribbon cutting for our new housing community in West Windsor. Unfortunately, Lt. Governor Oliver eventually could not attend.
 
This Freedom Village site is located off of Old Bear Brook Rd in West Windsor.  This project has been one that has been in the making for over ten years.  I started talks with the owner in the 1990’s and kept in touch with him each year, to see what his timeline was for when this community could begin.  The tricky issue was to get this to conform with the available funding mechanisms, as well as work within the Low Income Tax Credit program, which we did.

Also, the time had to be right for the town politically.  Like what usually happens with our housing, we had an advocate– someone who was a West Windsor resident, and who was also a member of the Project Freedom family.  Her name is Florence Cohen.  Florence was a Board member for Project Freedom for many years, and an advocate for our housing in West Windsor.  She served on the Affordable Housing Committee within the town, and would keep the name of Project Freedom in the forefront of any discussion regarding affordable housing.  Having a family member with a disability only made it more personal for Florence when she talked about Project Freedom housing.

This is not unusual for Project Freedom to have advocates in the towns that we build.  Usually we are contacted initially by parents groups who realize that when their kids get to be adults, there really isn’t any appropriate housing that will meet their needs.  They want to stay in the town and want their now adult children also to live in proximity of where they grew up.  This makes a lot of sense, especially for those with a disability.  So, these people contact Project Freedom to see what we can do to help.  And of course, if we can, we try.

So, having the Lt. Governor asking to come to announce a new housing program was really a feather in the Project Freedom hat.  We have worked hard to build a housing product that fits the need, is sustainable, and is located in locations that are convenient to shops and transportation.  Our West Windsor site is one that fits that bill, with the West Windsor Train station located just a couple of blocks away, and shopping found on the Princeton-Hightstown Road.

So, once again, we have created another housing community that will be open to all—especially those who use a wheelchair or who have mobility issues.  The mission continues.

 

“My Two Cents” – February 2020

Remembering My Friend Nate

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

By now most of the Project Freedom community knows that our friend, Nate Smith passed away in January.  Nate Smith was a tenant and employee at our Lawrence office and served as our receptionist there—answering the phones, and greeting our many visitors each day.  Nate could answer most questions regarding our housing…which application to use, and if there were any vacancies at our other housing sites.  He loved to come to work each day and was an inspiration to all of us who got to know him. 

There is a Chinese proverb, that says, “ It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness”.  I think that that philosophy is one that best describes my friend Nate.  Nate was born with spinal bifida, and used a wheelchair for mobility.  Because of this condition, Nate had a ostomy when he was a young boy, and lost his sight when he was a young man, so he had his share of problems and issues.  I think for me, having to go each day with what he had to contend with, certainly would have made me a very sour person.

But not Nate Smith.  He talked to me one day, on our trips to the doctors, or wherever, and told me that, early on, he struggled with his limitations, especially when he became blind.  However, I remember him    saying that, he realized that he didn’t want to go through life being a negative person, and holding on to his bitterness.  His attitude was that he accepted his condition, and was going to make the best of what he had.  He was going to be positive in how he comported himself and live his life to the fullest.  He would light the candle, rather than curse the darkness.

And that is what he did.  Anyone who knew Nate, couldn’t help but smile and see his positive, gentle nature.  He was always interested in what I was doing…what new housing project I was working on.. and how it was going.   He was also, always handsomely dressed, and took pride in his appearance.  I would sometimes comment that he really looked good today… saying he could appear as a model in GQ magazine.  He chuckled and said that the credit should go to his friend Essie, who picked out his clothes each day. 

Nate also was fiercely independent, and wanted to make sure that his trips to the hospital at times, didn’t ultimately result in his returning to a nursing home.  This is a fear that I have heard from many of our tenants who are disabled.  He was ever so grateful for his apartment at Project Freedom and for his status as our receptionist, and to be able to live his life as he saw fit, making his own choices.

Our Project Freedom family suffers today at the loss of our friend, Nate Smith.  For someone who lived in darkness, he was a bright light to all of us who knew him.  God bless and God speed Nate, you will not be forgotten.

 

“My Two Cent” – January 2020

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As I write these words in December, we have just been notified that Project Freedom has won the Low Income Housing Tax Credit award for our new Hamilton project to be known as “Freedom Village in the Woods”.  We still have to obtain a Federal Home Loan Bank Award, which we hope to apply for this coming Spring.  This project will mark our twelfth housing community that Project Freedom has  created.  All our housing is barrier free, making life a bit easier for someone who uses a wheelchair, yet it is also appreciated by someone who is not physically disabled.

Previous special needs housing has been designed for the individual in mind—someone who would live alone.  Group homes were formed that would put three or four individuals together, strangers in reality,     creating a family of sorts, each “family” sharing a single family home.  This model continues today, but     really doesn’t guarantee the independence that many people really want.  Making your own decisions,    and choices, is really what independence is all about.  Our housing, because it is leased based housing, provides a greater ability for the individual to preserve their housing independence by not risking their housing option if they need to change their service provider.

More and More, our housing has evolved into real family housing—not just one bedroom units for single individuals.  Our housing also includes two bedroom and three bedroom units, creating family environments for those who are disabled, and not disabled.  This now creates a new dynamic and greater integration for the person who does have a disability.  Real neighborhoods begin and relationships develop, creating a more natural environment for people to live.   People start to think about their neighbors—maybe even worry about them if they deviate from their normal routine.  They learn their kids’ names and other family members, and often share home baked goods.  That is really what being part of a community is all about.

Over the years, I have seen so many success stories from our disabled tenants.  One such person, who used a wheelchair and lived in a second floor apartment, had to crawl up an outside stairway in order to get into his apartment.  Needless to say, when he moved into one of our barrier free units, it allowed him to access his apartment without that indignity.   I have also seen how our young consumers become more  responsible, maturing by having to make their own decisions, however small they may be at first.  I know in our own family; it is gratifying to see how Jen has become so independent—and more confident in handling her own issues.  This is how we all learn to become responsible individuals—by having the  opportunity to make those decisions and learn from those outcomes.

So, as this new year begins, we look forward to continuing the journey of creating more barrier-free housing that creates an independent environment for everyone.  This year, we hope to open our West Windsor and Gibbsboro developments to new consumers who have the dream of a nice, safe place to live.  One that will allow everyone to become independent.  

Have a Happy New Year.

 

“My Two Cents” – February 2019

So, last month I talked about the scams that are often put upon the disabled and senior communities, and I would like continue that dialogue.  By the way, these don’t only apply to seniors

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

and disabled people; they apply to everyone, and they come in a variety of methods and modes.

Phone Calls:  You may get a call from someone who says they are from Microsoft and have received an alert from your computer that you have a virus, and they want to get your password so that they can fix it.  So, you give them your password and all of a sudden nothing works on your computer,  or, worse, they now have access to all your data on your computer like other passwords, maybe credit card numbers, or social security information.  Usually, legitimate computer agencies do not call you, YOU call them.  Hopefully you contact the phone number of the real organization for help, which can be verified before giving out information.  By you making the call, you helpfully have verified the legitimate contacts for Microsoft ( or whoever ) to address your problem.  Furthermore, if you have been using your computer and haven’t had any issues, chances are the call you got was bogus.

Also, some callers will say they are from IRS or some other company and that you are past due on your bill, and so they are willing to take a payment over the phone.  Never give Credit Card numbers information over the phone unless you have already verified the number and agency.  IRS will NEVER call you, they do everything through the mail; so if someone says they are from the IRS, hang up immediately.

Computer messages:  Again, you may get an email that looks like it comes from Apple or Microsoft, and it may say that you have won a free computer; and in order to get it, you just need to fill out an online form that asks for your social security number and a credit card number.  Again, don’t respond to this email, better yet don’t open up any emails that you don’t recognize the email address.  This is, again, another way to get personal information and or infiltrate your computer.  Once in, they can manipulate and monitor your emails from afar, reading everything you send or get via email.  ONLY OPEN UP EMAILS THAT YOU RECOGNIZE THE EMAIL ADDRESS.  Delete all the others.

Online Purchases: Today we all buy stuff on the internet using our credit cards.  For these purchases only buy from sites that you know, such as Amazon, or from major stores like Best Buy or Walmart.  National brands will have secure website, and only use a credit card, NOT A DEBIT CARD.    Credit cards offer some protection for your purchase for which you can dispute, or send back for a credit if not satisfied.  Debit cards are like cash, once you purchase, it will be hard to get your money back, regardless of the reason.  Credit cards have what is called,” Dispute Resolution” and will do an investigation about the purchase and usually will support you with any returns. 

Finally, there is an old adage that says, “Whatever seems too good to be true, usually is (too good to be true) and therefore unrealistic and false.  And always back away from anyone or anything that has to be done, right away or on the spot, these are usually scams.  Legitimate vendors will be glad to let you think about a purchase before making it.  Most purchases can be held off until the next day, so that you have time to do some research and think about the issue.

 

“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.

“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.