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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Orange Housing Authority shows Plainfield how it's done

The old and the new Alexander Housing in Orange (photo Orange Housing Authority).

Plainfield resident Walter McNeil, executive director of the Orange Housing Authority, was in Atlantic City recently to receive the 2014 Governor's Award for Excellence in Housing and Economic Development.

McNeil and the Orange Housing Authority were recognized for the neighborhood turnaround brought about by the replacement of the formerly crime-ridden mid-rise Alexander housing project with the new Alexander Village which includes 66 townhome-style family rentals and 48 senior units (read the Ledger's coverage here).

What can the Plainfield Housing Authority learn?

Mostly, it seems, the importance of having a plan and sticking to it.

McNeil carefully laid out his plan and lined up his financing before going public with it.

The payoff?

A quick evacuation and demolition of the old premises, combined with a staged and timely construction of the new which made for a minimum of disruption and maximized benefit for displaced tenants.

Consider this: In 2010 the Orange Housing Authority was awarded $27 million in tax credits and NJHMFA (NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency) financing to demolish the two older buildings and replace them with townhome-style residences, a fitness center and a medical office.

Within six months of the award, the former residents were all relocated. Some moved back when the new units were opened in 2012, less than two years later.

In 2013, the Housing Authority was awarded an additional $7.4 million in tax credits for Phase III, which includes a community center and an additional 42 family units. Construction on that phase is under way now.

How different from Plainfield, where the HAP's plan was announced several years ago, with delays in relocating the tenants that stretched to over two years. On top of that, the now-vacant Elmwood Gardens complex sits, surrounded by an expensive fencing system, with no date set for the required asbestos remediation or even a hazy date for the site's demolition.

On top of that, the HAP sent mixed messages when Executive Director Randall Wood surprised the Planning Board in September with an announcement that the proposed townhome development was to be replaced with a single age-restricted unit for seniors, saying 'We always had a plan A and a plan B'.

Only to be contradicted in October by HAP representative Lewis Hurd, who said the project will be as originally planned.

The confusion over WHAT is being proposed is only compounded by a lack of information from the HAP about WHETHER it has the financing lined up and WHEN the project will actually begin to move forward.

Let's get organized and learn from Orange!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

Can't we get people on the PHA who know what they're doing?