New state initiative provides $50M for special needs housing in NJ

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

State officials Tuesday announced a new initiative to boost housing opportunities for the disabled and others facing difficulties by providing $50 million in subsidies for developers who construct residences tailored to their needs.

The new financing, which officials say could support 400 such units across the state over the next three years, was announced at the formal opening of Freedom Village in West Windsor, a 72-unit affordable housing development where 18 apartments have been set aside for tenants with developmental or mental disabilities.

Among those already residing at the complex is Kathleen Maniere, a 28-year-old with cerebral palsy who’s living on her own for the first time.

“I love it. It’s a dream come true for me, seriously,” she said.

State officials said the initiative — under the Special Needs Housing Subsidy Loan Program — provides the first new source of funding for such housing in years. Beyond those with physical and developmental disabilities, the targeted populations are disabled and homeless veterans, domestic violence victims, the mentally ill, ex-offenders, those with AIDS/HIV and people under treatment for substance abuse.

“It’s been 15 years since the state set aside a large quantity of money to build special needs supportive housing,” said Charles Richman, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

“We all know or help care for someone with special needs — whether it be a veteran, at-risk youth or someone facing developmental differences or mental health challenges,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as NJHMFA board chair, in a release. “This funding will go directly to providing housing and compassionate care for these individuals and their families.”

Richman said the program works by providing builders with the difference between what they need to cover their costs and what tenants can afford to pay.

“When you build affordable housing, the cost of building far exceeds rents that individuals can pay,” he said. “We would give developers the gap between what the rents would cover and the cost of construction.”

Richman also said the initiative is geared to ensure that tenants at funded developments have access to the support services they need.

“The special needs community particularly has difficulties,” he said. “Often there are insufficient funds to pay rent, often support services are not necessarily available. This program packages construction with services.”

Maniere moved into Freedom Village in November with the help of Project Freedom, a nonprofit developer specializing in special needs construction. The new initiative is designed to encourage more projects like it, building on previous state efforts that officials say have resulted in the housing and supportive services for 1,600 families since 2005.

Since moving in and living on her own, Kathleen has landed a job, obtained her driver’s s license, and a purchased a new car.

“My mom, she’s so proud of me,” she said.