Gardens, a public housing project in Jersey City, on Monday to celebrate a $34 million federal grant that was awarded to the city to
replace 60-year-old buildings with a new mixed-income development.
Sens. Jon Corzine and Robert Torricelli and Rep. Robert Menendez attended the press conference and applauded the efforts of the
Jersey City Housing Authority for successfully being one out of the 15 local housing authorities across the nation to receive the grant
from the HOPE VI program. The money is coupled with other grants and private investment in an effort to produce a better quality of
Mayor Glenn Cunningham said the new housing units would highlight his efforts to bring the idea of "golden neighborhoods"
throughout Jersey City. Many residents have voiced concern that the people benefiting from the waterfront development in town are
not the residents of Jersey City.
"We remade the business district," Torricelli said. "It's time to make it work for the people who live here too."
The HOPE VI grant from the Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency was originally created under former President Bill
Clinton's administration to provide municipalities with funds needed to demolish decrepit public housing projects. As the program
evolved, municipalities began using the money to replace the public housing also. Jersey City received a $32 million HOPE VI grant in
1997 that helped fund the development of Curries Woods.
By creating a mixed-income community, city planners hope to bridge the gap between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds
by creating a diverse environment.
Under the plan, the city will knock down the existing 490 units that comprise Lafayette Gardens, the city's oldest public housing project
on Johnston and Grand avenues, and replace it with a Senior Living Center that has 82 units and a row of new townhouses that total 218
Tenants currently living in Lafayette Gardens are being relocated with the assistance of the JCHA. According to JCHA Executive
Director Robert Rigby, applications will be available for the new projects at the beginning of next year.
In total, the plan encompasses three separate areas within the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan to build a total of 850 units over the
next five years, setting aside 575 units for low-income tenants. The remaining units will be rented at market-rate or sold. To qualify for
low-income housing, a person has to fill out an application with the JCHA each year.
The other areas include a 300-unit development across the street from Lafayette Gardens, and 227 units in the Morris Canal Gateway on
These new developments defy the prevalent image of public housing, which has been blamed for isolating a high concentration of poor
families from the surrounding community. Instead, the new developments form a community of mixed-income families with some units
rented at market rate and others designated for low-income families.
Some residents who live in Lafayette Gardens attended the press conference and favored the new development. "I like what they say
just as long as what they say becomes a reality," said Frank Jordan, who has lived in Lafayette Gardens for three years. Jordan has some
reservations about being relocated, however. "They're going to move me out," he said. "They better have some place for me to go."
Ola B. Gomillion, who also lives in Lafayette Gardens, liked the new plans. "I think the plan is sensational if it comes through," Gomillion
said, "which I think it will."
More affordable housing needed
But while the face of public housing is receiving a makeover, the city still faces a deficit in affordable housing that the new money does
Because the plans require the demolition of 490 units of affordable housing, there will only be a net gain of 85 units of this type of
housing when the project is complete.
The staggering absence of affordable housing was made tangible during a community forum held by the Jersey City Affordable Housing
Coalition on Thursday night at P.S. 17 on Bergen Avenue.
Founded five years ago, the Coalition formed with the intention of facilitating the production of affordable housing in Jersey City.
To illustrate the demand for affordable housing, Harold Colton-Max, president of the Coalition, discussed a recent experience he had as
the executive director of the Fairmount Housing Corporation, a non-profit organization that creates public housing.
"We just recently advertised the availability applications of 13 apartments for rent in a newly-renovated building in Jersey City," he
recalled. "When we made the applications available, the line of apartment seekers stretched from our offices down the block of Fairmont
Avenue and around the corner onto Monticello."
According to Colton-Max, Fairmount Housing Corporation received 600 applications.
The event was intended to give people a chance to speak about their experiences with affordable housing in Jersey City. One after
another, long-time Jersey City residents recanted the years of disappointment they have endured in their quest for affordable housing.
"I can not afford what is being asked," said Janet Nunn, a single parent who is struggling to find a place to move with her 10-year-old
daughter. Nunn, who said she makes a decent salary, is currently living in a transitional housing program, but must find a place by the
end of February. "I don't know how we're going to make it."
Jasmin Santos, 21, said that holding two jobs, raising an 18-month-old son and going to school full time was not enough for her to
survive. She said high electric bills last winter rendered penniless, forcing her to move from place to place in search of affordable
housing. "My point is how I tried to keep my apartment and still couldn't do it," she said. Born and raised in Jersey City, Santos could
not imagine living elsewhere. "For me to pick up my stuff and move to another state to raise my child would be really hard for me," she
Many people complained about the failure of Section 8 housing, a government program that provides vouchers for housing to
low-income working families. For some people, the waiting list for Section 8 housing has kept them waiting for over a decade. Santos
said her mother just qualified for Section 8 housing after waiting 22 years.
Others complained that they received Section 8 vouchers, yet there was no affordable housing in Jersey City for them to use them.
According to Colton-Max, approximately half of the households with these vouchers can not find places to use them.
"HOPE VI is the replacement of existing housing," Colton-Max said. "We want to make sure we can do what we can to increase the