While the political class finds any reason at all not to create news rules for building affordable housing in New Jersey, a collection of non-profits has grabbed the lead on the issue and created a model that could be replicated anywhere.
Taking advantage of some new federal rules, and getting all the players in the room at the same time, Morris County, NJ organizations like Morris Habitat for Humanities, the Morris County Affodable Housing Corp., Homeless Solutions, NewBridge, Community Hope, The Rose House, The Housing Partnership and United Way’s Housing Alliance created a new playing field.
The agencies stand up to the old notions that building housing for the low to moderate income group drives neighborhoods into the ground. In fact they set the examples that other homeowners could follow. Look at Morristown’s Second Ward. That’s the Hollow, the poor side of town. Habitat, Homeless Solutions, Morris County housing and Madison Housing have built or planned about 10 affordable housing projects that for a time represented the only new housing being built in that ward.
And while this housing as being built during the Great Recession, when commercial builders coudn’t give away the McMansions they built, it is also leading the way for energy efficient buildings. Working with committed designers and suppliers, the non-profits are using the most energy efficient designs and materials they can afford, meaning that the owners and tenants of those homes will have lower operating costs.
So let the critics wail, and let the politicians gaze into their little mirrors, but someone needs then to explain why the vacant lot in Washington Township where Homeless Solutions is putting up multiple units, or the homes in Morristown that were rehabbed by Habitat into livable homes, or the efforts by New Bridge and Rose House to create places for the handicapped to live, or Community Hope’s great effort to house veterans at Lyons Veterans Hospital — solving for the VA a problem that the agency could not seem to solve — is bad for us, when it in fact represents the best we can do.
Then there’s new items like this: NJ gives grants to eight struggling hospital systems who are treating higher percentages of uninsured. I’m glad we don’t need to reform the health care system, because the hospitals are getting a lot of practice treating the unisured. Defenders of the status quo need to seriously examine their positions. Since when it a better system to have 50 million Americans wijout insurance, leaving the rest of us picking up a part of that bill.
And no, those 50 million people are not illegal immigrants; they are your neighbors who lost their jobs and have been quietly visiting the food pantry each week to put enough food on the table. The health care status quo has allowed corporations to push the cost of their workers’ health care to the workers (just as they did with pensions). I’m not sure that approach helped anyone because when those workers get stretched too thin, the taxpayers get the bill.
But the political class will babble on, because their speech is determined by the last person to stuff a dollar bill or two into their shirt pocket.
Last, there is Phillipsburg High School. It is a lovely, old building built for about 900 students now housing twice that.
And, oh, there are more than 30 temporary trailers on the grounds, and in the local streets to house the students. But is is a lovely old school.
But P’burg is an Abbott district, which in NJ means it in the minds of the political class, it is a leech on the system. Phillipsburg, like the original 30 Abbotts, mostly urban schools, fell on hard times in the 1970s when its dominat employer moved out.
Know what, many states have had this same problem and most solved it years ago. But not NJ. Sadly for places like Phillipsburg, the arrival of the Abbott case coincided with the flight to the suburbs and the problems of the urban areas were left behind.
But they weren’t; they were just forgotten and eventually morphed into the endless school funding debate NJ has every year.
The center of the argument is the suburbanites complaining that “their” taxes are being spent to fix the urban schools. But in NJ, these days, “suburban” generally means Republican and “urban” means Democratic. But if you are an urban mayor, what do you do when your tax base collapses? And that is really what the Abbott case is about: Taxes. The Supreme Court ruled that basing school funding solely on property taxes was discriminatory and called for the Legislature to craft a solution. Nearly 40 years later, the kids at Phillipsburg High are waiting.
Oh I know. Let Phillipsburg fix it the problem itself. Know what, there is no state in the country in which state government does not contribute a large part of school construction costs, but in NJ that aid comes with a lecture blaming the needy school districts for being needy in the first place.
Such was the head of the state’s reform school construction corporation lecuring Phillipsburg leaders that the school’s cost was too high, when it has been set by the state’s school construction corp. But the question is this: In a town that last built a high school 90 years ago, and plans to use it again after some renovation, is $122 million (or $88 million, the last estimate) too much for a school after 90 years, and one that will be in use 50 years from now?
And recently the sending districts to Phillipsburg have rattled sabers about building their own high school. Do you really want your taxes to rise that much?
The blame here in on the Warren County politicians who have either been silent on the issue for too many years (but they will get a bill passed to allow the sale of raw milk) or spent the last decade demonizing the Abbott schools, but were willing to show up and yell at the state when they last refused to build the school after breaking ground for it, sort of taking credit without making the effort.
Then there is our Congressman. I appreciated his stand when as a member of the Assembly he stood alone against Gov. Whitman’s pension shift and lost a chance at a committee chairmanship. But he lost my vote when he joined the P’burg boo-birds, without as much as visiting the school more than once.
So this is what I say to all the critics, especially the governor whose kids attended a nicely funded private scshool: My kids, and generations of other kids have been doing well at a school that has 30 or more trailers as classrooms. Do you kids go to a school like that?