BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
This year the Matthew G. Carter Apartments is celebrating its 40th year providing affordable housing to Montclair residents. It was in 1979 when the Rev. William H. Gray III and the Union Baptist Church community saw the need for affordable housing here, with the result becoming known then as the Erie Lackawanna Apartments at 20-80 Glenridge Avenue.
In 1999, the 126-unit complex was renamed in honor of Carter, Montclair’s first African American mayor and his efforts promoting affordable housing. Carter, who passed away in 2012, established a local fair housing ordinance stipulating that that housing decisions should not be based on national origin or race.
For more than four decades, the scarcity of affordable housing has been a hot issue in Montclair, said William Seeney, board president of Union Montclair Housing Corporation, the complex’s operating directors.
“In an area that is identified with high rental rates, people are getting priced out of quality rental apartments, especially around the train station where the area is being upgraded,” he said.
Union Gardens, at 50 Greenwood Ave., was the first affordable housing development built in Montclair, built five years before the Carter Apartments and providing 55 residential units; today, it is a Section 8 housing development. In 1988, another group of caring community members saw the need to preserve affordability in Montclair and created HOMECorp. One of those founders was Mary Ann Clermont who was working at the Y on Glenridge Avenue and would regularly hear stories of residents having a hard time paying rent and buying groceries, said her daughter AhavaFelicidad.
“She saw so many people with so much to offer here and she and her HOMECorp friends all had these ideals in common — integration, diversity, the village concept, the importance of family, and back then the education. With all that Montclair has, no one here should struggle or give up their quality of life,” AhavaFelicidad said about HOMECorp’s mission.
45 YEARS OF PROVIDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
The Carter Apartments are subsidized through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 236 program and Rental Assistance Program. This enables residents who earn 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) or less to qualify for rental assistance. Those with gross income above the 50 percent AMI level may rent there at prevailing market rates.
While affordable housing was built and provided by caring community members in the past, now developers are required to provide some such housing with all new development. Those numbers range from 10 to 20 percent.
But today the need has grown even more dire. Currently there is a waiting list of over 2,000 residents seeking the current 780 affordable units in Montclair, with 600 families seeking affordable for-sale units — including single-family homes, condos, or townhouses — and over 1,400 families seeking rentals.
Community Grants, Planning & Housing LLC is the administrative agency for units, which are at 24 Elm St., the Montclair Residences at Bay Street Station, the Montclarion at Bay Street Station, Valley & Bloom, The Vestry and Washington Street Rentals.
Affordable housing is also available, but not handled by CGP&H, at the First Montclair House, the Carter Apartments, the Montclair Inn, Montclarion I, Pine Ridge of Montclair and the South End Gardens. For those units, affordable rental applications are handled directly through the development. The Montclair Inn, Southend Gardens, First Montclair House and Pine Ridge are for seniors only.
Homes for sale that are offered as affordable include units at James Street, The Siena, Bay Street Commons and Talbot Village.
To date, HOMECorp has developed nearly 200 units of affordable rental and owned housing in Montclair. But as market rates drive up prices on rentals and home sales in Montclair, it’s also getting harder for agencies such as HOMECorp to buy up property for affordable rentals, said executive director Melody Federico.
IS MONTCLAIR DOING ENOUGH?
While the township believes it has met its obligation for affordable housing through 2025 based on an assessment by the Fair Share Housing Center, tenant activist Mitch Kahn says there is an affordable housing crisis in Montclair. Kahn, who works with the New Jersey Tenants Organization, believes that more affordable housing could have been created through developers.
“Montclair had an opportunity to grab more low and moderate income housing with all the development. It didn’t happen and I don’t see it happening in the future,” he said at a recent council meeting.
Last year, however, the council passed a resolution committing developers to 20 percent affordable housing with all new developments of five or more units. But that 20-percent set-aside isn’t happening with all new developments.
From 2015-17, Montclair developed The Montclairion II with 48 units (with the Montclairion I updated to include six more affordable units as a condition for approval of the Montclairion II project), and the 46-unit Vestry; all three developments include 20 percent affordable housing.
A series of other residential buildings, the Siena (100 units), the Montclair Residences (163), Valley and Bloom (250) and Seymour Street Arts District (200) were built with only 10 percent affordable units.
Complexes approved, but not yet built, include a 17-unit development, with two units set aside as affordable, on Glenridge Avenue and Willow Street near the YMCA, and another with 17 townhouses or condos with no affordable also on Glenridge Avenue and Willow Street. A development on Bloomfield Avenue at the former Diva Lounge is expected to have 10 units, with two set aside as affordable.
WHY NOT 20?
Although the redevelopment of Lackawanna will see 20 percent of the 154 units set aside as affordable, two other developments — the Church Street development on the former Hahne’s parking lot (76 units) and the MC Residences (46 units) — will have 10 percent set aside as affordable. Developments that are within a redevelopment area, created by the mayor and council some over 10 years ago, have been approved with 10 percent, while those outside seem to have the 20 percent.
“Over the past eight years, the Township of Montclair has been using a municipal land use law as a tool to reduce the 20 percent requirement in ‘areas of redevelopment’ by 50 percent,” said William Scott, NAACP and Housing Commission chair.
Using the Siena, Montclair Residences and Valley and Bloom, he calculated that had the township required developers to produce the full 20 percent, another 42 affordable homes would have been built in Montclair.
Since the mayor and council have solidified their commitment to 20 percent affordable, rather than amending each redevelopment plan, the Housing Commission is pushing that the ordinance be amended to say that all new development within a redevelopment area or rehabilitation area be required to provide 20 percent affordable.
“We hope the Montclair Town Council, and Planning Board understand the critical need for affordable housing in Montclair. Mayor Robert Jackson received the Montclair Branch NAACP Thurgood Marshall Award in 2013 and should understand the commitment to affordable housing in the Township of Montclair,” said Scott.
And without rent control in Montclair and rents now climbing as high as 35 percent a year, Scott and AhavaFelicidad are now expanding the fight for affordable housing to include rent stabilization.