Council Approves Funding for Affordable Housing

An architectural rendering depicts the proposed affordable housing project for senior citizens next to Bayview Manor.

By Donald Wittkowski

City Council approved a $6.6 million bond ordinance Thursday night for affordable housing construction, including a new project that will allow senior citizens to leave a flood-prone neighborhood.

The city is planning to build or rehabilitate affordable housing sites for senior citizens and low-income families. The projects will help Ocean City meet its state-mandated obligation to provide its “fair share” of affordable housing as part of a court settlement in 2018.

Construction will be done at the Bayview Manor and Peck’s Beach Village housing developments managed by the Ocean City Housing Authority.

Bayview Manor at Sixth Street and West Avenue will undergo rehabilitation work in 2019. Part of the flood-prone Peck’s Beach Village site on Fourth Street will be demolished and replaced with a new 33-unit affordable housing project for senior citizens next to Bayview Manor.

Members of City Council spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of the plan, saying it will add attractive new affordable housing in the heart of downtown.

“It’s going to complement everybody’s neighborhood,” Councilman Keith Hartzell said of the project. “I wholeheartedly endorse this. I think it’s a great thing for the city.”

City Council believes the construction of new projects offering attractive affordable housing will complement the surrounding neighborhoods.

Other Council members echoed Hartzell’s sentiments, stressing that the project is crucial for providing the city’s senior citizens with a place they can live instead of being forced to find affordable housing elsewhere.

“They’re an incredibly valuable part of our community,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said.

City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson explained that Ocean City has carefully crafted its affordable housing plan in a way that will allow new construction to blend in with the rest of the neighborhoods without “jamming up” the town with high-density projects.

“No high-rises. No buildings that look like projects. Buildings that look like homes,” McCrosson said.

Ocean City dramatically reduced its affordable housing obligation with a court-approved agreement last year that would require 93 units, instead of 1,687, for low-income families, seniors and the disabled.

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 Ocean City Housing Authority and the City of Ocean City are working together to provide new housing for senior citizens in place of the flood-prone Peck’s Beach Village complex along Fourth Street.

The city is financing the affordable housing projects in partnership with the Ocean City Housing Authority. The authority plans to contribute $4.2 million in funding using a federal Hurricane Sandy recovery grant.

City Councilman Bob Barr serves as the chairman of the housing authority’s board. Barr recused himself Thursday from Council’s vote on the $6.6 million funding package for the affordable housing projects.

However, representatives of the local group Fairness In Taxes said they object to millions of dollars in tax money being used to “bail out” the housing authority.

FIT’s president, Dave Hayes, told Council that the group will consider its options for possibly blocking taxpayer money from financing the affordable housing plan.

“We hope to continue working with the city to resolve this issue,” he said.

FIT met with city representatives on Thursday before the Council meeting to discuss the affordable housing plan. Hayes characterized the discussions as an important first step in what he hopes will be a settlement between the city and FIT.

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