By Jennifer Ortiz
HOWELL — In comments recapping 2015, Mayor Bill Gotto noted that Howell officials were able to take advantage of the new Akabe Village housing development on Wyckoff Mills Road to accommodate individuals with special needs.
Akabe Village is an affordable housing development in the Adelphia section of Howell, off Route 524.
Affordable housing in New Jersey is defined as housing that is sold or rented at below-market rates to individuals who have an income that meets regional guidelines.
Gotto said the impact of the project was reduced at the same time accommodations were provided for individuals with special needs.
“As Councilman (Robert) Walsh has brought up numerous times, (housing for individuals with special needs) was something that was sorely needed within the community,” the mayor said.
Walsh has a son with special needs and is going through the process of transitioning his son from a 21-and-under youth program to a 21-and-older adult program.
“It is a daunting task. … There are not enough adult programs. … With the influx of autistic young men and women in the 1990s, what is going to happen to them when they become of age, 21 years old, and they are no longer in youth programs?” Walsh said.
New Jersey will be short 5,000 to 7,000 group homes by 2020, according to the councilman, who said the wait exceeds 10 years on the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities list for housing.
Gotto said that with assistance from Walsh, officials decided to take a close look at assisting residents who have special needs.
Walsh said Akabe Village was planned to include apartments for adults with special needs.
Howell Director of Community Development Jim Herrman said the developer of Akabe Village, Regan Development Corporation, adapted 16 of the total 32 apartments for individuals who have some type of disability.
“Special features were designed to help people with physical disabilities live independently in the community,” Herrman said.
Of those 16 apartments, four are available with additional enhanced features to help people who are transitioning from nursing facilities to independent living, Herrman said.
The four apartments have automatic door openers, hard floors that make it easier for people who use a wheelchair to move about, special showers and fully accessible bathrooms and kitchens.
“The developer has coordinated with New Jersey’s I Choose Home Program to help these residents smoothly transition from nursing facilities to (Akabe Village). Supportive services for all of the special needs residents are available to assure they can successfully live in our community despite their disabilities,” Herrman said.
Akabe Village has 32 apartments, which is fewer than the 60 apartments that were initially envisioned. The property changed hands before the development was finally constructed in 2015.
Gotto said municipal officials met with representatives of Regan Development Corporation “and arranged to downsize the scope of the project. The number of units decreased and the number of residents decreased. The funding mechanism they used was for … handicapped individuals, a portion of which they received (as) federal funding, so it was really a win-win for everybody,” Gotto said.
The developer of Akabe Village participates in a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program that allows the property owner to pay a set amount to Howell each year in lieu of paying property taxes that would be based on the assessed value of the property in a given year.
The development includes 12 one-bedroom units for individuals with special needs; four two-bedroom units for individuals with special needs; and 16 two-bedroom units for moderate-income residents. There is a clubhouse and a playground.
Herrman said developments such as Akabe Village satisfy a need in Howell.
“Half of this property is moderate rate affordable housing, but you would not know it by looking at it,” he said. “The term affordable housing is often misunderstood these days as meaning the property will be a slum or a depressed development, but that is not the model developers are looking to build and operate. They provide on-site management and keep these properties maintained and beautifully landscaped.
“The other half of the units are dedicated to residents with special needs. It is great to have these residents live in units that are specially designed to accommodate their needs while still being close to other family members if they are Howell residents. It gives them some independence that most people take for granted,” Herrman said.
He said Akabe Village is substantially complete and the apartments received certificates of occupancy on Oct. 29, 2015. Individuals interested in applying for an apartment may access brochures and an application at www.akabevillage.com or call 732-294-1111 to request a brochure and an application.