Montclair Township Council Considers Community Development Block Grants

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Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley at the December 8 Montclair Township Council meeting
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley.

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.

Other Discussions

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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. William Scott has lost it. The man has no sense that there is a cost for affordable housing. He and his housing commission don’t get that it’s still a taxpayer subsidy.

    Affordable housing..sounds great..come one come all…especially if it’s just the big bad developers that have to pay for it. Lets bring in lots of people from around the county who need a place to live here. But Scott doesn’t care it seems that it’s really our taxpayers today that ultimately get the short end of the stick. If these housing advocates continue to push a 20% IZO under the old COAH laws – they could require taxpayers to build hundreds of two and three bedroom affordable apartments over the next ten years. That means hundreds of new kids into the school system.

    But that’s million of dollars in revenue shortfalls from only minimum property taxed units that will just raise overall town taxes even more.

    The tax and spend bleeding heart “liberals” — while meaning well — are going to chase both our middle class out of town and our existing working class (mostly minorities not in affordable housing) who will no longer be able to afford to remain. It will just be the rich and section 8 and those in affordable housing if these advocates don’t wake up to the result of what they are really asking for.

  2. I doubt Mr Scott has lost it. While I don’t understand or like his insinuation at all, I’m acquainted enough with local politics to suspect there is more behind his outburst…and I’ll guess it has little to do with the Essex County Mental Health Association suit. Still, I don’t condone it.

    I do believe, as I have said before, the Housing Commission – or the Councils it advises – has not done the township any great service in educating taxpayers about the real costs of achieving the various target levels of AH. The 20% IZO clause is the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, in attempting to reach our previous target of 1,133 AH units. Further, it is predicated on our build/grow our away development strategy to fiscal solvency. I think this is why he is so adamant on this aspect of our AH strategies. The other AH strategies are immensely more difficult to realize without a very large taxpayer infusion.

    If our AH unit target remains substantially unchanged, then the majority of new AH housing units – especially in the 1st & 2nd wards, will come from conversions – not new development. This is, by far, the most expensive strategy in a built-out town like Montclair. The advantages are that it has the least impact on population growth and the corresponding demands on infrastructure and services.

    Furthermore, if we want to talk about Montclair’s changing diversity, let’s talk about our biggest age diversity issue – the significant decline of the 19-34 age group. Since 1980, we have lost 50% more of young people (19-34) then we have the senior group (65-84). Coupled with the significant loss of the 55—84 age group, the only steadily growing segment is the 35-54 age group and the related under 19 group. Our AH strategy is not doing anything to address this issue.

    Our AH Plan and strategies were developed a decade ago and was suppose to be revisited at least every 5 years. I think it is very much out of date with some assumptions that are no longer valid. We should revisit, reassess, and recalculate what our AH strategy should be going forward.

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