REFORMED CHURCH OF HIGHLAND PARK
AFFORDABLE HOUSING CORPORATION
The Reformed Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corp. (RCHP-AHC) is committed to providing housing for low- and very-low income people, many of whom meet the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and/or NJ Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (NJHMFA) definition of “special needs.” What sets us apart from other housing developers is our extreme passion for providing not just four walls around a person, but an intentional compassionate community that welcomes, embraces and supports them as well. This takes shape in a myriad of ways, from providing a cheerful welcome at the RCHP office where residents residing in local projects can drop in, pay their rent, use the copier, send a fax, and most importantly hang out with Lisa, the church secretary, for a dose of laughter, warmth, encouragement and motherly/sisterly/friendly advice to finding creative ways of assisting residents in getting job skills and making a few dollars by providing short term volunteer/work opportunities in a variety of projects. It includes the involvement of the RCHP, and wider, community in providing rides, employment, meals, holiday gifts, mentoring, tutoring, furniture and other donations, as well as respect, friendship, understanding, kindness and tolerance to the residents in our projects whose humanity is invisible to a society that largely marginalizes them. It also includes being an understanding landlord, one that balances financial responsibility and accountability with an understanding that the residents for whom we provide housing occasionally fall on even harder times than those that brought them to us in the first place, and need the benefit of additional time or supportive services, to help them pay their rent and/or abide by the provisions of their lease.
As of January 2016, RCHP Affordable Housing Corp. owns eleven properties, providing housing for 79 tenants (of whom ten are children) and five Resident Assistants. One of the properties owned by RCHP-AHC, Flower House, is operated by Enable, Inc., our social service partner in providing services for people with developmental disabilities, and another property, Oak Tree Road, is in the process of being turned over to Enable, who will then become the owner. RCHP-AHC received funding from a variety of governmental agencies for acquisition of ten of these eleven properties, with one property, Brill House in Newark, being funded by a loan from the Reformed Church of America Church Growth Fund (RCA-CGF). The RCA-CGF also contributed partial funding for one other house, purchased with government funds, to enable us to do required renovations.
RCHP-AHC manages three additional properties, owned by other entities, for which we identify, screen and place tenants, provide property management services and collect rent. This “management only” arrangement allows us to provide additional units of housing for very low income people in cases where we do not have funds available for acquisition.
RCHP-AHC Owned and Operated Properties
Irayna Court (Highland Park): Irayna Court was the first project undertaken by the newly formed RCHP Affordable Housing Corp. in 2006 when it purchased the “air rights” above the Reformed Church for $1.00 in order to construct six units of supportive housing for young women who aged out of foster care or who experienced unstable housing in their adolescence. In February 2008, RCHP-AHC completed this $2.3 million addition to the church building, financed by the NJHMFA Special Needs Trust Fund and Middlesex County HOME Investment Partnership funds. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) provides six State Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) project-based vouchers and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (RUBHC) provides case management services to the tenants. Each of the young women has their own bedroom and bathroom and shares a kitchen, living room, library and laundry facilities. Since the program opened, members of the RCHP staff and congregation have provided compassionate care and concern for the young women, and have developed personal relationships that are both emotionally engaging and mutually rewarding for all involved.
All Saints Apartments (Highland Park): In January 2011, RCHP-AHC opened All Saints Apartments, located two blocks from RCHP. With $2.9 million in funding from the NJHMFA Special Needs Trust Fund and Middlesex County HOME Investment Partnership, RCHP-AHC purchased and substantially renovated a vacant church in order to create ten efficiency units and one 2-BR unit of supportive housing for homeless Veterans. The Department of Community Affairs provides ten project-based State Rental Assistance Program (SRAP) vouchers for the efficiency units and the Department of Veteran Affairs is currently providing a tenant-based HUD VASH voucher for the 2-BR unit. RCHP-AHC has worked closely with the Veterans Administration/ Lyons Hospital Homeless Veterans Coordinator and the Middlesex County Office of Veterans Services to identify homeless Veterans in need of housing. Supportive services are provided by RUBHC. Members of Highland Park’s many congregations, local schools, and the community at large have reached out to welcome their All Saints neighbors and provide friendship and a sense of community belonging. One of the current Veterans works as Highland Park school crossing guard and several have steady part-time work walking dogs for people in the neighborhood.
11 South Second (Highland Park): RCHP-AHC purchased and renovated this single family, 3-BR home adjacent to the church in April 2008 with funding from the NJHMFA Special Needs Trust Fund and Middlesex County HOME Investment Partnership program to create permanent housing for a homeless single parent with children. There is no project-based rental assistance voucher allocated for this project, however rental assistance has been provided to the residents by either a tenant-based SRAP or Temporary Rental Assistance (TRA) provided by the Middlesex Board of Social Services. The three families who lived there since its opening have been active in a variety of church activities including assisting with the garden, attending youth group, and attending church services.
114 South Second Ave (Highland Park): “114” was purchased primarily with funds from the Middlesex County HOME Investment Partnership and a $75,000.00 loan from the Reformed Church of America (RCA) Church Growth Fund. It is home to five very low income Rutgers University students, ranging in age from 25 to 55, who had to overcome significant life obstacles before they could get a college education. They are part of a special program at Rutgers University that provides educational, financial and social supports to help students facing similar challenges succeed in school. Two female students share a 1-BR apartment on the first floor and three male students share a 3-BR apartment on the second floor. All the students have jobs and/or do volunteer work in addition to going to classes. To make this housing affordable for the students, RCHP Affordable Housing Corp. charges the tenants well below the fair market rent allowable in Middlesex County and includes utilities in their payment. The success of this nascent project has led Rutgers and RCHP-AHC to discuss possible future collaborations.
Welcome Home – 180 Redmond St. (New Brunswick): In early 2012 RCHP-AHC forged a partnership with homeless shelter providers in New Brunswick, responding to their desire to provide permanent housing for homeless individuals living on the street, rather than just long-term shelters (with rarely any vacancies) or seasonal shelters that rotate among the various New Brunswick churches and synagogues. The Welcome Home collaborative was formed and RCHP-AHC purchased a modestly priced 3-BR home in New Brunswick with funding from the New Brunswick HOME Investment Partnership program. After making extensive use of volunteer labor to assist with renovations, RCHP-AHC and Elijah’s Promise, the social service partner for this project, opened its doors at 180 Redmond St. in May 2012, providing permanent housing to five men who had collectively been homeless for 37 years! Four formerly homeless men current reside there (it was too crowded with five) and, in order to make the rent affordable, RCHP-AHC charges well below the fair market rent allowable for house. The residents pay for all utilities, keep the house in immaculate shape and are a stabilizing force in the neighborhood, mowing their neighbors’ lawns, hosting BBQs in the summer, and keeping up on neighborhood needs as to who is not well, who needs a meal delivered, and the like.
Welcome Home – 129 Redmond St. (New Brunswick): RCHP-AHC purchased a second home in New Brunswick utilizing funds from the New Brunswick HOME Investment Partnership program and the Middlesex County Homeless Trust Fund and in the summer of 2013 welcomed five homeless individuals and one very-low income Resident Assistant to their new home. Four men and two women currently share the 4-BR house with project-based rental assistance vouchers being provided by the Middlesex County Office of Human Services, Division of Housing, Community Development and Social Services. Supportive services are provided by Elijah’s Promise. Though it’s been a challenge to keep members of the Welcome Home collaborative involved in these two houses on an ongoing basis, we did receive significant support from Second Reformed Church in New Brunswick who provided a temporary home for the residents in the winter of 2015 when the furnace cracked and they had to temporarily relocate. RCHP-AHC Board current and former Board members as well as members of the HP Minyan and other community members stepped in as well during this difficult period. I addition, members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Princeton drop by the house on occasion to deliver magazines and the New Brunswick Islamic Center donated linens and towels when we were preparing to open 129 Redmond.
Shiimti Apartments – 134 Brill St. and 585 Hawthorne Ave. (Newark): In September 2009 the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a national organization that provides technical assistance to supportive housing providers, requested that RCHP-AHC become the developer of ten units of supportive housing for homeless, justice-involved youth with disabling conditions, in Newark. In June 2010, RCHP-AHC purchased 2 two-family houses in Newark, which now house ten formerly homeless youth age 18-21, and two Resident Assistants (one in each house) who serve as role models and help provide community linkage for the tenants. The $883,000.00 project, funded by NJHMFA Special Needs Trust Fund and HOME Investment Partnership Funds from Essex County and the City of Newark, is currently entering its sixth year of providing housing and support services for this very challenging population. The Essex County Department of Citizen Services/ Division of Community Action provides ten project-based Shelter + Care rental assistance vouchers. Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care provides case management services to the tenants. The vast majority of youth referred for housing have been in multiple foster and group homes, as well as a variety of shelters and transitional housing programs, before moving into our housing. While residing in our housing they are provided with referrals for medical, dental and vision care, and are assisted with obtaining government benefits, looking for jobs, enrolling in GED, college and/or vocational training programs, and obtaining mental health and substance abuse treatment if they so desire it.
Brill House (Newark): Brill House, purchased entirely with a loan from the RCA Church Growth Fund, is home to eight homeless individuals who have a mental health diagnosis. The two 3-BR apartments, each with two single and one larger double bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room provide housing for four women and four men. The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services provides housing vouchers, based on tenant income, which subsidize the cost of the rent, while tenants pay for gas and electric on their own. The top floor of the house is an office for staff from Rutgers University Behavioral HealthCare who provide case management services to the residents of Brill House and the two Shiimti Apartments houses. Some of the residents of Brill House have been homeless for many years, moving from one place to another, sometimes living on the street. Having stable housing has allowed them to get mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, take care of long standing medical issues, get dental and vision care, and apply for jobs or government benefits.
Flower House (Somerset): Flower House is owned by RCHP-AHC and operated by Enable, Inc., our social service partner in applying for, and obtaining funding from, NJHMFA Special Needs Housing Partnership Loan Program (SNHPLP) and the Township of Franklin (Somerset County) Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The SNHPLP is a collaborative effort between the NJHMFA, Department of Community Affairs and the Division of Development Disabilities, tasked with pre-certifying and funding housing developers who would purchase and renovate 4-BR ranch style homes and make them suitable for individuals with developmental disabilities exiting the State’s Developmental Centers. Enable Inc. pays rent to RCHP-AHC but assumes all other costs of the project including utilities and maintenance, and provides daytime programming and 24/7 awake staff to assist the four individuals, two of whom are wheelchair bound, who finally have a home of their own after living for many years in an institutional setting. RCHP-AHC has also been instrumental in helping forge a relationship between Enable and the Middlebush Reformed Church.
RCHP-AHC Managed-Only Properties
25 Cedar Avenue (Highland Park): RCHP-AHC provides property management services only to this 2-family home that houses a three-generation refugee family on the first floor and a single, formerly homeless individual on the second floor. The owner, an RCHP member, lives out-of-state and requested that RCHAHC select the tenants, collect the rent and take care of the property. For its role in maintaining this property, RCHP-AHC collects a small property manage-ment fee. Both households are very involved in the life and spirit of the RCHP community.
45 River Road (Highland Park): This two-family home is owned by a church member who requested that RCHP-AHC provide property management services including tenant selection, rent collection and property maintenance. The first floor apartment is rented by an RCHP Associate Pastor and his family. The 3-BR second floor apartment is occupied by two homeless women referred by the RUBHC homeless outreach (PATH) program, with rent paid by the Middlesex County Board of Social Services Temporary Rental Assistance program, and two asylees referred by the RCHP Immigration Committee who share a room in order to be able to pay the very affordable rent without government assistance.
42 Thomas (South River): In 2015, RCHP-AHC entered into an agreement with First Reformed Church of South River to provide property management services for a 5-BR house located on the church grounds. Residing in the house along with his three children, is a former detainee/asylee from Ghana (for whom the RCHP Immigration Committee provided extensive support) who was finally granted permanent residency status in the US, and two members of his extended community, creating a “family” network that cares for the children during the time that their father is at work.
RCHP-AHC “Turn-Key” Property
Oak Tree Road (Edison): Like Flower House, the 4-BR ranch style house on Oak Tree Road, was purchased with funds from the NJHMFA Special Needs Housing Partnership Loan Program (SNHPLP), with matching funds from the Township of Edison. The newly renovated house is currently inhabited by four individuals who were former residents of the State’s Developmental Centers. Enable Inc. pays RCHP-AHC a rent of $1/month, pays all utilities and takes care of all maintenance, and provides 24/7 awake staff and services. RCHP-AHC is in the process of transferring ownership to Enable Inc., a process which is expected to be completed within the next six months.