Woodbridge unveils 100-apartment complex for people with disabilities

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

A long-planned complex in Woodbridge comprising 100 apartments designed for individuals and families with disabilities made its formal debut Friday, a structure that officials and others said is designed to provide its residents with both a home and a sense of community.

“You know how many people will look at this and say, ‘Not in my backyard?’” said Carol Ehrlich, executive director of the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency. “We in Woodbridge are saying, ‘Put it in our backyard. We want it. This is part of who we are.’”

The Greens at Avenel is a four-story building with one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. Twenty-five of the units are specifically dedicated for families and individuals with physical or developmental disabilities, or mental health challenges, and will be getting rental assistance from the state.

Designed as affordable housing, all the units are designated for residents earning 30% to 60% of the area’s median income. Depending on family size, that means an eligible household can earn between $34,000 to $82,000 a year.

The Middlesex County community was once home to a state-run residential center for adults with development disabilities, which was shuttered five years ago as New Jersey shifted to a system of private, community placements for people with significant cognitive and physical problems.

“We had a developmental center here before, and now we want to have all the special needs people we can have here back in town,” Ehrlich said.

Officials say the housing fills a critical void for special needs residents. They’ll have on-site access to case management services, health care, counseling, financial budgeting and assistance.

“We need places where parents can get their adult children now a place to live in a setting that they’re comfortable with,” said Mayor John McCormac. “Knowing that when something happens to them their kids will be taken care of.”

The project dates back well over a decade, to the opening days of the Corzine administration. The township bought the formerly vacant lot, in the Avenel section, for $1 from the state Department of Corrections, which still owns a site just across the street.

The property was then donated to a public-private partnership between the private developer, Pennrose, Woodbridge, and the N.J. Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.

The building is not open to tenants yet, but officials say there has been intense interest among prospective residents.

“I’ve already gotten probably at least a dozen phone calls and messages from families of children with developmental disabilities and special needs of ‘How do I get here?’” said Cory Spillar, township council president.

McCormac was asked whether having a state prison across the street would deter any potential tenants. He said the facility hasn’t had a security issue in 40 years. He also noted that half the units in this building are already spoken for.

A two or three bedroom unit will cost between $1,200 to roughly $1,700. A representative for the property says they expect to have the first leases signed by the end of the month.