Affordable Housing Complex May Be Coming To Howell

Photo by Kimberly Bosco

HOWELL – At the Feb. 15 Planning Board meeting, the application for Howell Family Apartments, LLC, a 72-unit affordable housing complex at the intersection of West Farms Road and Fort Plains Road in Howell, was presented before the board.

After over three hours of witness testimony from the project developer, The Walters Group, the application was not fully completed and will be carried over to the April 5 Planning Board meeting for a final decision.

The application was for preliminary and final site plan approval for the Howell Family Apartments, LLC, an affiliate of The Walters Group.

The affordable housing complex would be comprised of 72 rental units within nine two-story buildings, an office and community building, a recreational area, and a maintenance building, according to Edmond Speitel Jr., Land Development Manager for The Walters Group. Speitel said that the community will have a 2,900 square foot clubhouse, 14 one-bedroom units at approximately 800 square feet, 43 two-bedroom units at approximately 1,100 square feet, 15 three-bedroom units at approximately 1,300 square feet, and 143 parking spaces.

Located at Block 135 Lot 26, at the intersection of West Farms Road and Fort Plains Road, the complex will be made up of 100 percent affordable housing units, members of The Walters Group emphasized.

“The average size of the unit is 2.3 people,” said Melissa Demayo, Director of Property Management for The Walters Group. “This property would equate to 165 people (including children).”

“What a project like this can do is provide some benefit to the town’s obligation to provide affordable housing,” said a representative from Howell Family Apartments, LLC at the meeting.

The township will be entitled to two credits per unit for the housing development, totaling 144 credits total.

Photo by Kimberly Bosco

The units will be reserved for applicants of low or moderate income that make 30-80 percent of their income in this region. The type of residents that are typically accepted into this affordable housing consist of teachers, nurses, social workers, paralegals, police officers, government employees, retail and sales workers, young people just starting their careers, and older people living on fixed incomes, according to the representative Howell Family Apartments, LLC.

“Part of the management (of the housing complex) speaks to qualifying tenants,” said Speitel. A large part of choosing which applicants will receive housing has to do with credit checks and criminal background checks.

Speitel noted that The Walters Group plans to build, own, and manage this complex. There will be a three-step process for reviewing each applicant before final decision is made on an applicant’s eligibility.

First, he said that property managers will run credit and criminal background checks on potential tenants. Then, a third party associated with The Walters Group, called Spectrum, will review further info about the applicant. Lastly, all the information goes to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) for final approval. This process will help strictly manage that the tenants accepted into affordable housing are eligible and not engaged in any criminal activity, according to Speitel.

Speitel also noted that the privately-owned project will also have its own private roads and an enclosed trash area, so as not to create an eyesore for the community.

Residents at the meeting voiced some concerns about the funding for this affordable housing project. Kathryn Leibel of Newbury Road inquired whether the people of Howell will be responsible for paying the taxes of the tenants in the housing complex due to the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) associated with the project.

“The rates of PILOTs for our other communities are far less than this one,” said Speitel in response to Leibel’s concern. He said that 144 credits for the rental units will go 100 percent to the municipality.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit Pilot Program (LIHTC) was created “to help streamline the underwriting and closing process of low risk LIHTC transactions,” according to the First Housing website.

In addition to the pilot, the Howell Family Apartments will also be funded by Superstorm Sandy relief funds, according to Speitel.

Resident Colin Campbell asked whether there will be preference for prospective tenants that have been victims of Sandy damage.

Speitel explained, “For the first 90 days of lease-up there is a preference for any resident who can document Sandy damage.”

This Sandy relief program is administered by the state, said Ronald Cucchiaro, attorney for Weiner Law Group LLP. “There is no role at all that the township plays in it,” he said.

The applicant for the Howell Family Apartments, LLC only presented three out of five witnesses for the proposal in the time allotted during the planning board meeting.

The application will continue during the April 5 meeting of the Planning Board, where all testimony is expected to be completed and a final decision made by the board.