Development targets tough block with affordable housing

Things are looking up on this stretch of Ocean Avenue. From blight and despair comes renewal and hope in a community that is often forgotten when the Jersey City success story is told.

“There used to be a gas station here,” noted EPA Region 2 Chief of Staff Chris Lyon. “There used to be a dry cleaning facility here, and there used to be toxins in the soil, and they’re not here any more. There’s a tremendous, fantastic building named after a titan who has now achieved immortality.”

That titan is Lena Frances Edwards, Howard University graduate, Medal of Freedom winner and a physician who practiced in Jersey City’s inner city for decades beginning in the 1920s. Three generations of her family – physicians, schoolteachers and public safety veterans among them – were on hand to share in the celebration.

“She became an obstetrician and gynecologist and she helped families in Jersey City to expand by delivering the 5,000 babies that we spoke of. That’s a lot of family right there,” said granddaughter Patricia Madison.

Tuesday, the Edwards Apartments – 64 units, five set aside for homeless veterans – have replaced eyesores and brought new energy to Ocean Avenue, miles from the neighborhoods you usually hear about.

“One of the things that when we first got this project that we realized was that there was a new development across the street and there’s another new development right here,” said Karim Hutson, founder of New York-based Genesis Companies, who developed the property. “And there’s a senior home right here, and this was essentially a vacant, blighted piece of land with two or three dilapidated town homes, so we said you have brand-new development and then you have blight right next to it. That’s actually something that should not be the case.”

Developers will tell you that building affordable housing doesn’t pay. And while on some new projects officials celebrate when they can get 20 percent affordable housing, this development is 100 percent affordable.

“It’s income qualified,” explained Hutson, “so you will apply and it’s eligible folks making up to 60 percent of area median income, so it’s capped at that. And for that, that’s really your schoolteachers, some of your police officers, some of your firefighters, people who really have a job and are looking for really work force housing to be able to live in.”

But Hutson acknowledges that, without partners – lending institutions, HUD, EPA, state agencies and federal agencies – all pulling in the same direction, 100 percent affordable housing just couldn’t happen.

“We must develop and increase opportunities for mixed income housing,” insisted Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. “We do not need to sustain a trajectory of segregated housing patterns and dividing people by income and economics.”

Ocean Avenue has a long way to go to recapture its good old days, but this development is a sure sign that renewal is possible but it literally takes a village to revitalize a village.