Middletown takes first step toward building affordable housing for veterans

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The Middletown Township Committee has entered into a contract of purchase for properties at 37-45 Leonardville Road where a 100% affordable housing development for income-eligible veterans of the armed forces will be constructed.

“We are for affordable housing, especially when it makes great sense,” Middletown Deputy Mayor Tony Fiore said during a committee meeting on Jan. 21.

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That evening, the members of the governing body took the first step toward providing an affordable housing option for veterans in Middletown.

According to the ordinance the governing body adopted, EZ Quick Food Store Inc. is the owner of the property, which will be purchased for $335,000 through Middletown’s affordable housing trust fund.

Resident Don Watson thanked the committee members for considering affordable housing for veterans. He said the dwellings to be constructed are “well deserved and well needed.” Watson noted the property is a former hazardous waste site.

Mayor Tony Perry said the site has been cleaned and that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a No Further Action letter in connection with the parcel.

“An NFA is an environmental release of ‘no further action’ from the DEP and is the culmination of a property’s environmental remediation,” according to petrojerseyindustries.com

Fiore said he was “a no-go” to building on the property before the letter was received from the DEP.

Resident Carmen Peterson, who said she is an advocate for veterans, said, “it’s a shame a country like this lets our veterans stay homeless and out in the streets. I’m very happy we are doing this.”

Following public comment, the committee members voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance to enter into a contract of purchase for 37-45 Leonardville Road.

In an interview after the meeting, Perry described the next steps in the process.

“We already sat down with the Middletown Housing Authority to figure out the parameters of the project … Once we close on the property and have done the due diligence we need to do on wetlands and things of that nature that can impact (the project), we will lease the property to the housing authority (and the authority) will construct all affordable units for veterans,” Perry said.

Perry said 10 two-bedroom apartments would be developed at the site, which currently contains “a run-down old building.”

“It’s a property that people in Campbell’s Junction, which is an historic part of our town, have been begging us and Township Committees in the past to do something with. I set out at the beginning of 2019 to try and solve this issue and luckily we were able to do something … Today we were able to score a huge victory for Middletown,” the mayor said.

Middletown officials’ decision to construct a 100% affordable housing project for veterans comes after they ended negotiations with representatives of the Fair Share Housing Center, Cherry Hill, which advocates for the construction of affordable housing throughout New Jersey.

“Since July 2015, we have been negotiating with Fair Share Housing Center in good faith. I and the rest of the Township Committee rightly stood up and said we are not going to have the terms dictated to us. We are the only five people here that are elected to represent the people of Middletown.

“A nonprofit entity (Fair Share Housing Center) that spins this false narrative about where they stand and who they represent, it is up to the five members of this governing body to negotiate and we tried in good faith. Every time we would meet, the goalpost kept getting farther and farther and farther.

“And you know what? At some point in time … (Fair Share Housing Center) is going to come back to us and tell us we need to do another 1,000 (affordable) units. My answer to them is you show me on a map of Middletown where you are going to put not 1,000 housing units, but 5,000 housing units,” the mayor said.

The mayor’s reference to 5,000 housing units includes 4,000 market rate homes that could be built to subsidize the 1,000 units of affordable housing the township could be directed by a court to provide.

“It is unrealistic and I am not going to negotiate with somebody who has no intention on doing actual good. That is why the Township Committee is standing up and will build the affordable housing for people who have honorably served this nation,” Perry said.

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