Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Housing Authority exec outlines plans for Elmwood Gardens

The four Elmwood Gardens units, plus unspecified other properties
would be included in a redevelopment plan.
The Housing Authority of Plainfield's executive director, Randy Wood, appeared before the City Council Tuesday evening to request it instruct the Planning Board to do a study to declare the Elmwood Gardens complex and its 'surrounding neighborhood' in need of redevelopment. (This is the first I can recall hearing that the area would include properties in addition to the HAP buildings themselves.)

The designation of a redevelopment area will then allow the process of replacing the current four-building multi-story configuration of 128 apartment units with 72 townhome units.

Wood listed the reasons for the requested redevelopment area designation --

Higher rate of crime activity than elsewhere in the City, due to...
  • Antiquated interior design;
  • Unsecured unit access;
  • Shared common hallways;
  • Lack of defensible interior space;
...all leaving residents feeling intimidated by loiterers, drug dealing and vandalism.

Additionally, none of the buildings is ADA-compliant, which negatively impacts the quality of life of residents.
In his opinion, the redesign into townhomes will reduce criminal activities significantly and will revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Wood noted that residents have already been informed of the Housing Authority's long-range planning, and that putting a redevelopment plan in place by August would allow for the Authority to begin relocation of remaining residents in October.

It was stressed that no QUALIFIED residents will be left homeless; they will receive Section 8 vouchers that are usable countrywide for relocation purposes.

There are currently 13 vacant units, with one quarter of residents out of compliance with HUD regulations. Fourteen units are in eviction litigation, with a further twelve units where non-payment of rent is at issue. Wood estimated that 70 of the 128 units would be vacant by October.

A redevelopment plan would include a zoning change from R-4 to R-7, and the proposed townhomes would be built by a private developer with financing by the NJ Mortgage and Finance Agency.

Financing through NJMFA carries with it tax credits for the developer and mandatory provisions by the state that the municipality execute a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the developer.

To my mind, this is actually preferable to the current situation, in which the Housing Authority properties are tax-exempt. Wood stated that the project would add approximately $14 million to the assessment rolls. A PILOT payment would certainly go a long way to relieving the burden on the taxpayers, who have been picking up the policing costs associated with Elmwood Gardens since its inception.

Councilor Rivers, participating by phone, was critical of plan, expressing concerns over whether some residents might be left homeless. Wood had complete control of his facts, and reaffirmed that
no QUALIFIED residents will be left homeless.

Having a study by the Planning Board done, passed by the Board, referred to the Council for agenda-setting and passed by the Council at its August business meeting will require good coordination.

Let's hope everything moves like clockwork.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Please give it to the Good Sisters from Mother Teresa's group I see walking around town.

Anonymous said...

My opinion is that the problems with Elmwood Garden have more to do with poor management and a questionable tenant's association than with the physical facility. A friend who lived there had a very nice apartment. However, as you pointed out, 20-25% of the residents were not qualified to be living there, and I believe their presence dimished the quality of life for qualified residents. How is it that eviction action can remove them when the housing authority wants to aggrandize itself, but not in the ordinary course of management over the recent past?

Furthermore, this government project will cost someone, something, somewhere. Most Plainfielders do as best they can maintaining their 80 year old homes and expect to live in them for many years to come. Doing a tear-down of this 60 year old housing stock strikes me as wasteful. I say have the housing authority enforce the residency qualifications scrupulously for a few years and see what effect that has. Having them do their job just might make a differnce for the better without the waste of a tear-down.