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Many Join Forces in Effort to Help Veterans Find Homes in New Jersey

For all those involved in housing issues, finding partners has been a key. That has been true even when an initiative starts in the private sector. Four years ago, Union City attorney John Lynch and his partner, Ralph Affuso, planned to build 18 apartments in a building they owned on Kennedy Boulevard.

Although they already had approvals, as they talked it over with others in the community, they came up with the idea of reserving units for veterans who could meet income restrictions, Lynch said.

“My father served in World War II, and this is a way of paying respect to the people who served our country,” he said.

But the project might not have happened without impressive support and cooperation by local, county, state and federal government, Lynch said.

The partners also got help from a nonprofit, “Homes for Heroes,” that coordinates such efforts, Lynch said. They soon had “four or five government agencies involved,” including funding from HUD through Hudson County and the New Jersey Special Needs Housing Trust Fund, as well as continuing care funds and screening from the county division of housing and community development, Lynch said.

The North Hudson Community Action Corporation agreed to provide a range of training and support services for the residents, while a raft of businesses made contributions including furnishings.

To qualify for an apartment, a veteran must have an honorable discharge, must make less than 50 percent of the median income and must have a mental or physical disability. The vet must pay 30 percent of his disposable income as rent.

Back in Franklin Township, developer Karim Hutson of the Genesis Companies extolled the similar spirit of cooperation behind the Soaries apartments. No one wanted to cut corners, he said.

The state and private backers encouraged him to install high-efficiency heating and cooling, large bathrooms, stylish counters and design details like small shelves next to doorways, “so a woman can put down her bag while she gets out her keys,” Hutson said.

The new place is a welcome change for Gregory Shaffer, an Elizabeth native who served as crew chief for C-47 military transport planes in Vietnam. A former HVAC contractor whose health and finances could not keep up, he found himself homeless and couch surfing when he heard of the new apartments.

“It’s a new building, reasonable rent, the people are nice,” Schaffer said. “For the money, it’s pretty great.”

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