By Maddy Vitale
Ocean City dramatically reduced its affordable housing obligation with a court-approved agreement that would require 93 units, instead of 1,687, for low-income families, seniors and the disabled, it was announced Saturday.
In a town hall meeting at the Ocean City Tabernacle, officials laid out a plan on how the city will go about fulfilling the need for affordable housing.
Mayor Jay Gillian, City Council members, other city officials and housing experts attended the meeting. More than 100 people attended from the public.
Like other towns and cities, Ocean City must comply with the state’s Fair Housing Act of 1985, as well as the landmark Mount Laurel court doctrine requiring New Jersey municipalities to provide their “fair share” of affordable housing.
In Ocean City’s case, a scarcity of developable land in the beach resort made it highly unlikely it would ever be able to fulfill its original affordable housing requirements, so the number was greatly reduced under the court agreement.
The plan will cost the city $15 million for the rehabilitation of some Ocean City Housing Authority units and the construction of others, and must be paid by 2025, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson explained.
Gillian told the residents that it is his priority to take care of the community.
He noted that the goal of the city and the Ocean City Housing Authority is to meet the needs of the public.
“I’m here to get the facts together and take care of the community,” he said.
Gillian credited a strong team for making the project happen, as well as a great partnership with the Ocean City Housing Authority.
“This is a big number,” he said of the $15 million cost for the plan. “That is why we are holding a town hall meeting. We will have more.”
During the public portion of the meeting, residents had questions about funding, the timeline for the plan and how the city decreased its obligation by so much.
Panelists in the forum were Shirley Bishop, a former state Council on Affordable Housing executive director and private consultant who helped negotiate Ocean City’s affordable housing agreement; Rick Ginnetti, a housing expert; Jacqueline Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Housing Authority; and Carol Beske, founder of ACT Engineers, a city consulting firm.
Officials told the public that the joint venture between Ocean City and the Housing Authority is vital to rehabilitating substandard units at the Pecks Beach Village housing complex on Fourth Street. The units were built in the 1960s and are vulnerable to flooding.
Bayview Manor at 601 West Avenue is the other complex under the Housing Authority that will be rehabilitated or expanded as part of the plan. Altogether, there will be 80 units of affordable housing built at the Pecks Beach Village and Bayview Manor sites, officials said.
Officials explained that the current units don’t fit the aesthetics of the nearby neighborhoods.
The idea is to fix the existing units to be more attractive and up-to-date, which will help make them indistinguishable from other units and, in turn, bolster pride in home ownership.
As part of the agreement, officials had to look outside of the Housing Authority complexes to find 13 more units to fulfill the city’s obligation.
Ten units will be constructed on various city-owned lots located at 224 Simpson Ave., 240-244 Haven Ave. and possibly at 36th Street and Bay Avenue, but that is not definite.
There will also be three units the city has agreed to acquire and make affordable on the open market. They will be deed-restricted, so they can only be sold to qualifying purchasers.
Had the city not designated areas for these units and fulfilled its obligations, a developer could have come in under a “builder’s remedy” and constructed high rise, high-density housing, disregarding the city’s zoning, officials explained.
Ocean City residents Jackie McLeer and her sister Mary Crane live in the 100 block of Third Street, close to the some of the units that will be designated as affordable housing.
“We don’t have a problem with it,” McLeer said. “It is a free country.”
Jones said in the last two years, since she took over as the head of the Housing Authority, that she is happy with the direction it is going and commended the people who work alongside of her.
She echoed the sentiments of other panelists who noted how dated the Housing Authority units are and how the flooding at Fourth Street is an issue.
Jones said the project would not be possible without the support of the city.
“I look forward to working with the town in the coming months,” Jones added.
To qualify for affordable housing in Ocean City, a person must fill out an application. He or she may make no more than $40,868 a year. A two-person household is capped at $46,707.
During the meeting, residents had the opportunity to comment and also ask questions.
Pete Sokolowski, who lives on Simpson Avenue, told the panelists he did not understand the concept of how building or designating affordable housing units will boost home values.
Marlene Janner, of Central Avenue, asked whether hotels that offer low rates could somehow add to the number of units met under the housing obligation.
Bishop, the city’s housing consultant, explained that in those instances the people may or may not qualify for low-income housing.
Paying low rates to a hotel owner is completely separate from when someone fills out an application and is approved for affordable housing, Bishop said.
For Brenda Green, 63, who lives in Bayview Manor, the Housing Authority helped her to stay in a home she could afford.
She said she had a stroke two years ago and is legally blind. She comes from a family of five generations who lived and worked in Ocean City.
Green walked up to the microphone and started weeping.
“Without Bayview Manor, I wouldn’t know where to go,” she said, choking back tears. “In Ocean City, I know where I’m going. People treated me with respect.”
In response to Green’s emotional comments, Beske, the ACT Engineers representative, told the audience that this exactly why the mayor and City Council are so focused on the needs of the community.
A copy of Ocean City’s agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center is available at www.ocnj.us/AffordableHousing