Rahway hopes affordable housing complex will attract artists

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

Rahway is trying to promote itself as an up and coming arts community, but is it really affordable for struggling artists to live?

This week, the mayor held a ribbon cutting for The Willows at Rahway, a new affordable housing complex that he hopes will attract artists to live and work.

“There’s one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom. As you can see, beautiful hardwood floors, granite countertops, refrigerator, stove, wood cabinets, it’s really top of the end,” described Rahway’s mayor, Raymond Giacobbe.

“Everyone has to meet the financial criteria first, and if they’re an artist they move to the top of the list,” explained Bruce Morgan, president of BCM affordable housing, the developers of this unit. “It was the goal of the town to expand the arts community.”

The apartment complex even has performance rooms, which are designated for artists. But the only thing the apartments may lack is the artists themselves. That’s because there are no housing units set aside for them specifically.

Todd Stecker, the director of leasing and marketing for the building says 21 of the 58 units are occupied, 57 of the 58 units have applications pending and 15 of the 57 are qualified artists.

Nicholas Rosal, an artist himself and owner of the custom framing and art service Atelier Rosal said that he was surprised to hear there were no units designated for artists specifically.

“I was under the assumption that there was, but now that it’s come to light, it’s a little surprising,” said Rosal. “I mean, I would like it to be mostly artists, obviously, because I want this town to grow and become a cultural center.”

The developer says that the maximum income for a single person to qualify for an apartment at the Willow is $39,500. For a two-person application, the combined income maximum is $45,000.

“You know, we can market to the artists as much as we want, but we can’t control who gets in there. But just having that density of people so close to the arts district will help the arts district. They’ll come and shop at the store, they’ll come and see a play at the UCPAC, they’ll =get coffee and a doughnut at the bakery around the corner. So the arts district will benefit from just having the people close by, and I think it doesn’t really matter if they’re all artists or just supporting the arts,” said Amy Garcia Phillips, an artist and executive director of the Rahway Arts & Business Partnership.

The developer says there are three criteria that you must meet to successfully get an apartment. Number one, if you’re applying as an artist, you must include a portfolio and references. Number two, you must meet the financial criteria. And number three, you must complete a credit and criminal background check. Anyone who has been convicted of a violent crime is immediately disqualified.

The developer says that he’s confident that the rest of the units will be filled within 45 days, but still no word on how many of those remaining units will be filled by artists.