At a Glance
Public and affordable housing
The Madison Housing Authority in Madison, New Jersey, has built more than 300 units of affordable housing for seniors and families for rent and for purchase since 1982. It also was one of the first housing authorities in New Jersey to create a not-for-profit housing development corporation, which has partnered with the authority since 1992. According to Louis Riccio, Executive Director of the Madison Housing Authority (MHA), this steady progress is attributable to the authority’s staff. “You not only have to have the expertise and the knowledge but also good people working with you,” says Riccio, who had already worked at a large housing authority when he joined the MHA in 1981. Perhaps more important to success than employees, though, is an engaged board of commissioners and the cooperation of the area’s governing body or municipality, for these groups exercise a level of control the MHA needs in its favor.
“It’s very difficult to develop affordable housing with out the support of local elected officials,” Riccio says. In this tough economy, it can take up to five years to develop a project, but Madison officials have been very supportive of their housing authority over the years and have helped it cut through red tape by approving zoning variances, waiving fees for building permits and sewer and water connections, and donating land and funds for the building of more affordable housing. To expedite the process further, the MHA partners with other nonprofits such as the Madison Affordable Housing Corporation (MAHC) and Morris Habitat for Humanity. These partnerships have led to the development of two duplexes in Morristown, New Jersey, and six more units are currently under construction in Summit, New Jersey.
Riccio created a tool that can demonstrate to investors that a development is financially viable, and it involves assuring full occupancy of the development and a robust waiting list of more than 10 years. Additionally, the developments qualify for various municipal, state, and federal grants to cover gap financing, traditional construction loans, and permanent mortgages. “Banks like winners,” Riccio says. “If you can show them how the revenues will offset the expenses to cover the debt service, they’ll assist you. One of our best partners has been Somerset Hills Bank. They gave us a below-market interest rate, which helped finance the Firehouse Apartments.”
Riccio says some changes to state laws have created new challenges for developers. Affordable housing now must be fully handicapped-accessible with a full bath, a kitchen, and a room that can be used as a bedroom all on the first floor. Because of this requirement, the Madison Housing Authority can no longer build three-story townhouses with garages on the first floor, and this reduction in density has limited the number of affordable housing units that can be fit on a given site. Benefits from the state still seem to outweigh the challenges, though.
The Madison Housing Authority has relied on many of the same architects over the years, including William Charleroy, based in Pennington, New Jersey. He has completed architectural projects for the authority for 30 years, including apartments, townhouses, and duplexes. Last year it was his firm that completed the Firehouse Apartments, a four-story development with a first-floor office for the housing authority and apartments for elderly families situated above.
“It’s very reminiscent of the old turn-of-the-century firehouse that existed on the site,” Charleroy says. The dominant feature of the Firehouse Apartments is a round, wood-frame turret that starts on the second floor and extends a few feet higher than the roof. The building was made as energy-efficient as possible with extra insulation, daylighting, and energy-saving HVAC and lighting systems. The building design incorporates historical features while also blending in with the aesthetic of the downtown business district.
“We’re always trying to create a building with good design qualities,” Charleroy says. “We want a residential character that people want to live in, and we try to do it at the most affordable price.” Charleroy is careful in his designs of interior spaces and opts for a lot of open space and glass to create a spacious feel in the apartments, and thanks to his and his authority’s collaboration with local groups, more and more people can find places to live in Madison. “It’s a rewarding experience knowing that you’re creating housing for people that really need housing,” Charleroy says. ABQ