Regardless of the outcome of the Legislature's third attempt to set aside affordable housing for war veterans, Edgewood Properties said it will reserve nearly half the 166 units planned at its planned Piscataway apartment complex for returning soldiers.
"We're in the midst of two wars, and we're tired of hearing all of the stories about veterans coming home to New Jersey and not being able to find housing they can afford," said Mark Mauriello, director of environmental affairs and planning for Edgewood Properties. "We felt this is a problem developers have the ability to solve, so we wanted to do it ourselves."
Though three-quarters of the Villas at Fairway complex is still under construction, Mauriello said 22 of the one- and two-bedroom apartments currently available for leasing are set aside for veterans and their families at rents 30 percent lower than other units in the complex.
When Edgewood completes the Piscataway project, Mauriello said 88 of the 166 apartment units will be reserved for veterans, and the property's clubhouse will host meetings and exhibits to link those tenants to veteran service providers and officials from the U.S. Veterans Benefits Administration.
Aside from finding a job and securing federal benefits, finding affordable housing is one of the most significant issues veterans face when they return from military duty, according to Jack Fanous, executive director of veteran support services provider G.I. Go Fund, in Newark.
"This developer is offering brand-new housing to veterans at an affordable rate," Fanuous said. "That simply doesn't happen."
Under proposed legislation, S-829, municipalities like Piscataway could sign agreements with developers to set aside 50 percent of new low- or moderate-income units for veterans who qualify for affordable housing assistance, as an alternate way for towns to meet their affordable housing obligations under the state's Fair Housing Act. The bill was approved by the state Assembly in October and currently awaits a Senate vote.
While Mauriello said Edgewood is "aiming to launch our veteran housing program in Piscataway at a point when the law is there" — noting the Villas at Fairway won't be built out until 2015 — "we haven't thought about a plan B, so if it did come to the bill never being signed, our commitment to providing housing to veterans would still be the same."
"Even if this bill passes, we're dedicating more units to veterans in Piscataway than what we'll be required to provide, which will help place veterans in affordable housing even sooner," Mauriello said. "Since we're building a lot of new developments throughout the state, we're really looking at this program prospectively, so wherever an obligation for affordable housing exists, we'll consider setting aside units for veterans at our properties."
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