The Montclair Township Council, in its last regular meeting of 2015, held its annual hearing for community development block grant applications on December 8. The council heard from various groups involved with helping lower- and lower-middle-income residents and mentoring young people.
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley facilitated the process for the applicants.
Among the groups vying for money was the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), represented by Emma Justice. Her group is focused on efforts to find long-term solutions getting the poor into stable, permanent housing. Justice cited the IHN’s progress at getting people out of shelters, citing the group’s 65 percent rate in that endeavor, and she stressed how the IHN tries to stay connected with the people it serves, with an 85 percent success rate for housed people in tis Home For Good program. Justice also noted how important it is to provide continued assistance to people to preserve social stability. The IHN served 379 people with shelter, rental help, food, and necessities in 2014.
Marcia Marley of Succeed2gether also testified, explaining how it seeks to close the socioeconomic gap between Montclair’s poorer children and their more affluent peers, offering after-school tutoring and summer programs in math, science, language arts, art and music. Marley noted that the after-school tutoring initiative has gone from helping twenty children to over a hundred this past year, with about 90 percent of those children qualifying via low-income guidelines. She also noted that children showed an improvement of 28 percent in math this and 20 percent improvement in language arts this past summer. Succeed2gether was the only group that requested a specific amount, $15,000. She said she was asking for additional money this year from community development block grants for early-intervention tutoring.
Beverly Riddick of HOMEcorp cited her organizations’ Hope program for its work in helping less well-off people and families saving their money and avoiding foreclosure. The program also helps residents learn how to stay in their homes, and a new program slated to start in April 2016 will be geared for men in teaching financial education and general well-being.
Elaine Spears of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation testified on her group’s application for a community grant, explaining how her group focuses on education, recreation and cultural awareness trough Project Oasis, a six-week summer program that gives instruction to children in math, literature, financial theory, and computer literacy in the evening and provides opportunities for the children to compete in organized sports. The United Way of Northern New Jersey also returned to apply for grant money, citing its programs to provide workshops for people who need jobs and improving education for underprivileged children, with an emphasis on financial education. The group said it was planning to hold a seminar in January 2016 to teach financial skills and help people save money they get back on their taxes.
Cynthia Walker of Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (SOFIA) spoke for her group’s bid for continued grant money, citing the organizations’ ongoing work with providing housing and referrals to women and children who have survived domestic violence and abuse, as well as its new healign and wellness center. New this year was testimony from Fred Randall of Mindfulness, whose group has been teaching children and teenagers how to improve their attention spans and their emotional sate of mind thorough breathing exercises that calm them down. The hearing concluded with an update from Joe Davis of the group Brother to Brother, explaining his group’s progress in reaching out to troubled young men and readying them for jobs that are meant to lead to careers. Mayor Robert Jackson hailed the group for its positive influence.
Resident William Scott spoke out again about affordable housing in public comment, expressing concern as to whether Township Attorney Ira Karasick was trying to persuade attorney Edwin Schmierer, who is advising the township on the state Supreme Court’s affordable-housing ruling, to accomplish the zero-based obligations for Montclair for the next decade from the gross-share standpoint at the council’s December 1 meeting. Scott found it troubling that Karasick would suggest such a thing on behalf of the township. Mayor Jackson said that the statement had more to do with how the need for affordable housing is addressed and how the township would prefer to support a program giving preference to current and former Montclair residents and have the independence to do so. Scott persisted on the necessity to maintain affordable-housing efforts, particularly the 20-percent inclusionary zoning ordinance, and he expressed hope that none of the attorneys hired by the township dilutes the commitment to affordable housing. Then he said that any of the township’s legal representation shouldn’t be seen as being under any political pressure, citing the lawsuit against Montclair by the Essex County Mental Health Association in 2011, and expressing concern that the association’s law firm was also employed by Mayor Jackson when he was a candidate for the office he currently holds. Both the mayor and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager found Scott’s apparent insinuation uncalled for, and they testily made their displeasure clear.
The council took another stab at passing on first reading an ordinance dealing with invasive light, with Karasick amending the original first-reading ordinance to exempt public venues and public entities, like the police department, from the law when a ball field or a police unit uses such lighting. Karasick also added language saying that complaints about lighting brought up by private parties required efforts at mediation, but the rewording of the amended ordinance wasn’t enough to satisfy Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who still objected to the harsh 90-day jail penalty, and she voted against it. It passed 6-1.
Also, one day after the Planning Board gave its support to prohibiting head shops in NC commercial zones, the board passed on second reading an ordinance doing just that, fulfilling Dr. Baskerville’s original initiative.