Eighteen disabled and formerly homeless veterans had a much happier holiday this year. They began moving into the first new residence built under New Jersey’s “Homes for Heroes” program.
Established exclusively to house Hudson County residents who served in the armed forces, have a permanent disability, and are either homeless or nearly homeless, the facility was built at a cost of $4.7 million in a partnership between private and government agencies.
“This is truly a wonderful, first-of-its-kind in the state of New Jersey project that we all should be very proud of,” said Congressman Albio Sires, one of numerous prominent speakers at the opening ceremony for the building on Dec. 16.
The veterans, ranging in age from their 40s to their 80s, span the Korean War to Desert Storm.
“Those are the people that are defending our God-given freedom, our democracy, so those are the people we have to be there for,” said West New York Mayor Felix Roque.
The building contains 12 one-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom apartments, housing both individuals and families. Residents will pay rent on an adjustable scale representing 30 percent of their income each month. They will also be provided with a utilities allowance.
Home sweet home
At the ceremony, six veterans were presented with keys to their new apartments. Gratitude and joy were apparent in their faces as they took the first steps toward new lives.
“I love you guys. Thank you very much for everything,” said veteran Paul Garza upon receiving his key, adding that that experience made him feel “like a true American.”
“We’re not giving you guys anything,” said Luis Alamo of Alamo Insurance, one of many private donors involved in the project. “We’re paying you back.”
Viewing their apartment for the first time, Reinaldo Cabrera and Angelita Perez looked around in wonder, opening closet doors and inspecting the contents of kitchen cabinets.
Navy veteran Carlton Varnum said he couldn’t wait to take classes and invite his family to see his new home.
“I’m not going to say that these 18 units of housing here are going to solve the problems of our homeless veterans,” said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. “It isn’t even going to come close. But for 18 families, for 18 veterans, it does solve that problem.”
He added, “There is more veteran housing coming in Bayonne shortly and whenever we can find the funding, find the right project, find the right partners, we’re going to be right there to do it again.”
Located at 515 40th St. in Union City, the new building will receive security, maintenance, and other services from both the Union City and West New York Housing Authorities.
“This program shows that government can work,” said private developer John Lynch, who built the facility. “There are five different government agencies involved in this building. And for it to be so cohesive and turn into what I think is a model for the rest of the state and for programs like this throughout the country is just a testament to everybody.”
“Homes for Heroes” is funded by $1.3 million in grants from the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s Special Needs Trust Fund and Hudson County’s HOME Investment Partnership Program, in cooperation with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additional funding was provided by the county’s Shelter Plus Care Program.
“This is not only a model for the state but a model for the nation” – Joan Quigley
“This is not only a model for the state but a model for the nation,” said NHCAC President and CEO Joan Quigley. “Government agencies working together work. Government agencies working with private business work even better.”
Quigley has coordinated with private businesses to provide supplies for the veterans, including furniture, bedding, towels and dishware. Among the private and corporate donors were Bank of America, CarePoint Health Foundation, Classic Party Rentals of Secaucus, Dennis J. Enright, Jerry Perricone Foundation, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, United Way of Hudson County, Vision Media Marketing Inc., and Wal-Mart of Kearny.
Other speakers at the opening ceremony included NHCAP Chairman of the Board Joe Muniz and Director Rosemary Lavagnino, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos, and Palisades Medical Center Foundation Executive Director Joseph Burt.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.