Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Elmwood Gardens proposal clears another hurdle

Proposal to replace complex with townhomes moves to next step.
The Housing Authority of Plainfield's proposal to replace the aging, crime-ridden and non-compliant Elmwood Gardens complex on West Second Street with 72 townhome units cleared another hurdle Monday when the City Council passed a resolution authorizing the Planning Board to conduct a study as whether the area was 'in need of redevelopment' (see previous coverage here).

Immediately after the resolution had been introduced and seconded, Councilor Bridget Rivers moved to table the item. Without a second to the motion, Council President Annie McWilliams invited HAP Executive Director Randy Wood to the mike to take questions from Council members.

The Housing Authority owns and manages Elmwood Gardens along with other complexes in the city, as well as some privately-owned HAP-managed properties. While HUD has management guidelines and ultimate oversight of local housing authorities, the properties are managed by the local housing authority and not HUD directly.

Wood addressed the question of how existing tenants would be treated in the changeover, insisting that ALL RESIDENTS IN COMPLIANCE would be eligible for the relocation program and would be issued Section 8 vouchers which he reiterated can be used anywhere in the country, including Plainfield
(for more about the vouchers and how they work, see here and here).

In a story in this past Sunday's New York Times (see here), Water's Edge, an 81-townhome development in Elizabethport which replaced two notoriuously derelict and crime-ridden complexes gets high marks from resident Wynona Ancrum, who is also chair of the Elizabeth Housing Authority's board --
“I don't think you need homeowners to have a strong community,” said Wynona Ancrum, who has lived in public housing, as a renter, for most of her life.

“The way your neighborhood is designed and put together, that’s what is important,” said Ms. Ancrum, 55, who heads the board of the Elizabeth Housing Authority. “Not whether you own, or you are a renter.”
Councilor Mapp had several pointed questions about whether a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) would be proposed and whether the income associated with Section 8 vouchers would be included as 'revenues' in HAP's PILOT calculations.

Wood answered that there a PILOT would be requested (PILOTS are mandated by the state if it puts up the money for the project, and the fees paid to a municipality are set within formulas established by the state in setting up the PILOT). Though he was not prepared to discuss the PILOT matter further at this time, Wood assured the Council that the matter would be thoroughly presented to it when the time came.

After Councilor Rivers was reassured by Wood that further informational meetings with the tenants would be held (Wood reported on one that took place already and included other residents from the neighborhood), and by fellow Council members that the Planning Board's recommendation would have to be voted on by the Council (meaning further opportunity for deliberation), Rivers withdrew her motion to table.

The resolution then passed unanimously.

The matter now goes to the Planning Board, where expeditious action is expected.

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


Anonymous said...

I still believe mismanagement by the Housing Authority and Tennant's Council are responsible for problems at Elmwwod Garden. Yes, one could theorize that with brand new (until they are no longer new) and lower-density housing, a changed environment will change the residents' behavior. But enforcement of the rules and removal of the 100 residents who were found to be out of compliance would change the environment, too, and at a lot less cost. Should I be surprised that no one on the council has questioned why the Housing Authority allowed out of compliance occupants to overcrowd the project in the first place?

From what I've read, Elmwood is exempt from property tax. It seems the Council will rubber stamp redevelopment in order to get its hands on PILOT tax revenue. Too bad low-income housing for 48 families will be eliminated in the process and the useful life of these buildings terminated.

Dan said...

A 10:37: You raise some good points about being in compliance -- and Elmwood Gardens is certainly not the only place it's an issue (can we include Richmond Towers in the discussion? and others?)

EG is exempt from property tax, but I understand that a PILOT has ALWAYS been in place. The problem tho is that it is structured so no payment (or very little) actually goes to the City.

The bottom line on that is that ALL OF THE TAXPAYERS have been carrying the weight on the true cost of policing EG (and other HAP properties) ever since they were built. Having a PILOT at least will help ensure the HAP property helps carry its fair share of cost of city services (police, fire).

If you are a homeowner and taxpayer, how do you feel about the fact that your taxes have been higher all these years to cover those expenses?

Anonymous said...

Dan, When I got into a disagreement with Mr. Green over the PILOT granted Leland Gardens years ago, I remember him defending the program by saying that lost city revenue is made up by the county. (Unfortunately- my word, not his- lost school revenue is not.) So if EG has an existing PILOT, the city should already be getting reimbursed by the county for lost tax revenue. I bet you know how to check that, or find out why not.

I see with disagree on the merits of the plan. But, EG has been a drug zone for decades, although I think it is better policed now than 10 years ago. With 100 evictable residents in non-compliance according to the Housing Authorities report, I think they allowed the "well" to be poisoned. Remove the contamination and the well will renew itself is my belief. We don't need to dig a new well. I understand, however, that city governments love building projects, even if it means a net loss of 48 affordable housing units.

Dan said...

@ 7:56 AM: As to PILOTS, I have always been told that the County and School District get nothing, and the whole amount goes to the municipality.

PILOTS can be calculated in a couple of different ways (residential or commercial), and with sliding formulas where the amount is adjusted up on a periodic basis.

I am also told that the municipality can come close to or sometimes even exceed the amount it would get in taxes.

Lastly, I have heard recently that Union County is claiming a piece of the action,, something that bears looking into.

As for loving building a project, it is HAP's, not the city's.