The Jersey City Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners recently approved two development companies to replace the Montgomery Gardens housing complex on Montgomery Street in downtown Jersey City.
But residents of the low-income public housing project have gotten no guarantee that they can return when their units are replaced with mixed-income housing. In fact, JCHA Executive Director Maria Maio said that she is not sure that all 435 units will be replaced, and that many tenants will not be able to return.
The matter has been controversial for some time, as tenants complained last year that they weren’t given adequate notice of the Housing Authority’s plans to replace their housing.
There was also suspicion that the private development company Metrovest Equities, which is building market-rate housing nearby, would get the contract.
True to form, Metrovest was chosen two weeks ago to work on the project – as part of a team with another developer and an architectural firm.
By a 7-0 vote at its July 9 meeting, the JCHA Board of Commissioners authorized Metrovest Equities of New York, Michaels Development Co. based in Marlton, and Philadelphia-based architecture firm Wallace Roberts Todd to complete and implement a master plan that includes the design, financing, and construction/rehabilitation of on-site and off-site mixed-income units.
They have 90 days to complete the plan, with a deadline of Oct. 9. The development is estimated to take about five years.
Replacing public housing
Montgomery Gardens is a six-building, 435-unit public housing complex managed by the JCHA, an autonomous agency that operates with an $80 million budget. It is funded by the federal government through its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
At the July 9 meeting, Jacqueline Alsbrook, a 27-year Montgomery Gardens resident, said she was “apprehensive” about the revitalization. She wants to make sure residents will get their homes back if they are displaced by the work.
“I am not worried about the redevelopment, I am worried about the residents of Montgomery Gardens,” Alsbrook said. “I want to make sure we are not dislocated.”
Changes to come
Last year, the JCHA decided that Montgomery Gardens would be demolished within two years. Residents only found out in an October New York Times article that the property would be redeveloped into mixed-income housing by one of four developer teams who had submitted proposals to JCHA Director Maio.
Residents felt that Maio should have told them before telling the Times, and some called for her ouster.
Since October, there have several meetings between tenants, the Housing Authority, and city officials to discuss initial steps toward revitalization, including a program to relocate Montgomery Garden’s tenants to other affordable housing sites. At the present time, 113 of the units are vacant.
Also, since last fall, the four development teams who made proposals met with tenants and gave them tours of other affordable housing projects they have built in other cities.
A team effort
Michaels Development and Metrovest Equities actually started as competing developers, two of the four who submitted proposals in September.
Now on the same team, Michaels and Metrovest will each have a different role to play, along with architect partners Wallace Roberts Todd.
Wallace Roberts Todd will create the plan, Michaels will be responsible for the development, and Metrovest will contribute the vacant land they own in the vicinity of the Montgomery Gardens site for the new project.
Metrovest has an additional interest in the project, since the company is responsible for the 1,200-unit Beacon condo project on the old Jersey City Medical Center site next door to Montgomery Gardens.
“This will be a model of urban revitalization.” – George Filopoulos
George Filopoulos, President of Metrovest Equities, said after the meeting he looks forward to the project getting underway.
“I am very excited to work with a good team,” Filopoulos said. “This will be a model of urban revitalization.”
The Montgomery Gardens project could be modeled after other Jersey City Housing Authority sites, such as Pacific Court located on Pacific Avenue, where there are now townhouses.
JCHA Director Maio said any construction will be financed with mostly private money by Michaels, since there is very little federal money available to fund the project.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.