It is not news that there is a very lopsided distribution of affordable housing units and group homes throughout the town of Montclair, with the lion’s share all being situated in the 4th Ward (81% of affordable housing and 55% of group homes in town are in the 4th Ward). What is news is that on the tiny two-block long Irving Street, located in a critically sensitive part of the 4th Ward, a mental health organization is right now buying a single-family house (45 Irving Street) to create transitional housing for at-risk young women, a mere 170 yards away from an existing group home for men at 21 Irving Street.
Let’s add to that the fact that within a half-mile radius there are already 2 other group homes; one at 341 Orange Road between Grenada and Linden Streets and another one practically across the street at 354 Orange Road, the latter a project that a 4th-Ward residents group unsuccessfully fought and that by means of a local use variance is now operating 6 apartments in two separate structures. The brouhaha surrounding the Orange Road facility was instrumental in bringing about a current moratorium on the part of the City Council against situating any further affordable housing in the 4th Ward.
I would argue that non-conforming facilities like group homes are a special category similar to affordable housing and that it isn’t right or fair to situate a high concentration of such structures in any one part of town. Our local ordinances do not set any restrictions whatsoever regarding the density of group homes, transitional housing or halfway houses, meaning that for all practical purposes a neighborhood with R1/R2 zoning, in other words a residential neighborhood with a predominance of families, has no protection at all against an influx of these types of facilities, up to the point that a family neighborhood can be transformed into something entirely different, all without violating zoning regulations.
Before continuing I feel it imperative to clarify that I am not objecting to the idea of transitional housing on my street per se – I fully support the mental health organizations that work to help people struggling to reintegrate into society – rather it is the location of a second such facility on my two-block street that concerns me. Irving Street is equidistant from Mission Street and from Llewellyn Road, nearby neighborhoods that are vastly different from each other. It is important for Irving Street to continue to attract buyers who want a stable and safe neighborhood for their families and we feel that this newest group home is a clear threat to this goal. Our street has many people who believe in and are investing in the future of this neighborhood and we believe that it behooves all of Montclair to support us in our effort to put limits on the number of non-conforming houses permitted in any one area.
If you live in Upper Montclair, you may want to send your kids to Bullock or to Glenfield and know that the surrounding neighborhoods are improving rather than being packed full of transitional housing. The families with children who have lived here for generations or who, like me, bought here relatively recently to raise our children in an affordable, attractive neighborhood enjoy the distinct Montclair “vibe” of diversity that our town is famous for and we would really like to feel supported by all town residents in our efforts to enact relevant legislation on this issue. That is why I would like to ask all concerned residents to turn out at the next city council meeting on Thursday, January 7th at 7:00 pm to show support for the Irving Street residents who are calling attention to this critical issue.