Habitat For Humanity, Advocates Prioritize NJ Affordable Housing Trust Fund

Jun 21, 2019

NJ First Lady Tammy Murphy in Paterson to launch the national Habitat for Humanity Cost of Home Campaign.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

The Cost of Home campaign is first of sorts, combining the efforts of every Habitat for Humanity across the country into one initiative.  Barbara Dunn with Paterson Habitat says it’s a five-year effort that aims to help millions of Americans.  

“Reduce the cost of their housing,” she said.  “Right now, 1 in 6 Americans spend more than 50 percent of their income and our goal is to focus on those 19 million Americans living is such unaffordable circumstances.”

The national initiative looks to increase production of affordable homes, access to land, and advocate for dollars to help people struggling to pay a mortgage.  In New Jersey, Habitat for Humanity’s are asking the state legislature to fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“Funding to fill gaps that prevent affordable units from being realized throughout the state,” said Gail Levinson, chairperson from the Advocacy Committee with Paterson Habitat.  “Unfortunately, over the last ten or more years, much of that money which has been dedicated to those needs have been diverted for other needs addressing the state budget.  We would like that to stop.”

First Lady Tammy Murphy says the governor is committed to keeping those dollars in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“These efforts will be supported by the state budget that Phil has put forward, which would eliminate the diversion of funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, finally, and create the Office of Homelessness Initiatives,” she said.

Homelessness being another factor in the need for affordable housing in New Jersey.  

“The 2018 statistics, a New Jerseyan making minimum wage would have to work 107 hours a week in order to afford a decent one-bedroom apartment,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, head of the Housing and Community Development Committee, citing a national report.  “New Jersey is the sixth most expensive state in the US to rent a home according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. In Passaic County alone, 430 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night.”

Wimberly says the problem is becoming overwhelming in urban communities like Paterson.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to direct constituents to proper resources due to the lack of resources and a lack of funding for affordable housing,” he said.  “With the refunding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, more programs and resources will be made available to New Jersey residents.  As you know, we need it.”

Gail Levinson with Habitat Paterson says the Cost of Home campaign is calling on its members, volunteers, and the greater community to speak with legislators about affordable housing issues. 

“To encourage them to pass laws and write regulations that would increase access to funding, create new zoning opportunities, and make life more affordable for people with low income who do not live in safe and secure environments,” she said.

Still, New Jersey advocates for affordable housing won’t know if those dollars will be there until the state legislature and the governor come to an agreement on a fiscal year 2020 budget.