Local Affordable Housing Project Hasn’t Found Sandy Victims Qualified to Lease

The Willows Built in Little Egg Harbor With Sandy Relief Grant
By PAT JOHNSON | Sep 19, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson

The Willows, a low- and moderate-income rental complex on the corner of Oak Lane and Radio Road in Little Egg Harbor, is currently renting its 56 units, but despite using a $9.1 million grant from the state’s Sandy Disaster Fund that helped build the project, the developers have not yet found any Superstorm Sandy victim applicants who meet all the federal requirements.

Over a couple of months, local resident and senior advocate Art Mooney has continually asked the Little Egg Harbor mayor and committee to furnish the number of Sandy victims who have been housed in the apartments. Finally, the town’s new business administrator, Matthew Spadacini, replied by email that the answer was “none.”

“This concerns me greatly,” said Mooney last Thursday.

When reached by email, Todd Stecker, director of leasing and marketing for the Ingerman Group’s The Willows project, said, “Ingerman works closely with the Sandy Recovery Division at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs as well as the Affordable Housing Alliance Housing Recover Resource Center to provide Sandy victim referrals and outreach. We also attended the Housing Resource Fair for residents impacted by Sandy in Toms River, this year.

“Unfortunately, to this date, these efforts have not been able to attract a qualified Sandy victim. However it should be noted that the project is 50 percent leased and there are still apartments and time available for us to rent to qualified Sandy victims,” Stecker continued.

When asked how many Sandy victims or survivors had applied and been turned down, Stecker wrote, “We apologize, however it is our policy not to provide any traffic data or demographics regarding prospects or interest lists; however I will state that Sandy victims have applied.”

It took the Ingerman Group two years to get township approval for the overly dense apartment complex of five buildings of multifamily housing on a 4.5-acre site.

The Little Egg Harbor Zoning Board was court-ordered to approve the site plan and did so at its April 21, 2016 meeting after dropping an appeal of Superior Court Judge Mark Troncone’s decision to approve the housing. Troncone is a Superior Court judge tasked with deciding the number of affordable housing units each municipality must have in Ocean County after the state Council on Affordable Housing failed. His decision to allow the Ingerman Group to build The Willows was based on Little Egg Harbor’s need of affordable housing, especially after Sandy had ravaged the area in 2012.

Originally, victims of Sandy had priority over other applicants during the first 90 days when the complex started taking applications, but now the company will continue to take them.

In an earlier email dated Sept. 11, Stecker said, “The Willows at Little Egg Harbor is a rental community under the LIHTC (U.S. Low Income Tax Credit) program which follows the HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) guidelines. Due to the nature of this project, we must follow strict federal and state requirements, while also practicing fair housing for all residents and prospects. It is true that our community has a Hurricane Sandy preference for all prospects. This entitles those individuals who qualify for that initiative to be considered first and have their applications reviewed and processed ahead of those who have not already been approved for an apartment.

“However, this preference can sometimes be misconstrued. While the preference allows these individuals to be considered first, they still must meet the same income, credit, and criminal background requirements necessary to become a resident. In many cases, meeting all these requirements can be difficult and unfortunately there are many applications we need to reject due to failing a requirement.

“We pride ourselves and have received industry recognition for the quality of our in-house compliance department to make sure we are following all of these federal and state requirements while treating all prospects fairly.

“We have our community listed on several of the most prominent real estate web pages, as well as having our own website for the community and being featured on our Live Willows portfolio site. We send out e-blasts on a weekly basis, have held a Grand Opening event and just recently had an open house event where we provided an ice cream truck to give out free ice cream to everyone who attended, including current residents. During the first few months of our lease up, we visited many of the local community centers throughout the town to announce our opening, educate the centers on what type of community we are, and provide printed brochures to hand out.

“It seems through your inquiries that even with all of these efforts there is still a lack of public reach. We will make sure to double our efforts in local outreach.”

The complex has five buildings. Three in the back portion have 12 units and are three stories high, with two or three bedrooms. The two closer to Oak Lane and Radio Road house 10 units each with a step down from three stories to two stories on the ends. The complex also has a 2,933-square-foot community center with laundry, and offices for the manager and maintenance person.

The developer purchased additional land to increase parking to 110 spaces.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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