MONTCLAIR, N.J., – Forty years ago, Reverend William H. Gray III and the Union Baptist Church community in Montclair, started a movement that has provided affordable housing for hundreds of Montclair residents.
The congregation saw the need and advocated for quality affordable housing; the result became what was then known as the Erie Lackawanna Apartments, which opened in 1979 at 20-80 Glenridge Avenue. The 126-Unit apartment community serves low-Income residents with affordable rents, college scholarships and camp tuition
In 1999, the complex was renamed Matthew G. Carter Apartments in honor of Montclair’s first African American mayor and his many contributions to the field of affordable housing. Carter, who passed away in 2012, established a Fair Housing local ordinance that stipulated that housing decisions should not be based on national origin or race, and was chairman of the New Jersey State Commission of Civil Rights. He was also a minister at Union Baptist Church.
“Matthew G. Carter Apartments plays a vital role in Montclair,” said William Seeney, board president of Union Montclair Housing Corporation, the complex’s operating directors. “We are proud of its inception, born from the energy and vision of local residents and Union Baptist Church. And we are proud of how it stands as a model of well-maintained affordable housing that gives back to its residents in meaningful ways.”
Seeney explained that for the past 40 years, the scarcity of affordable housing has been a hot issue in Montclair. “In an area that is identified with high rental rates, people are getting priced out of quality rental apartments, especially around the train station where the area is being upgraded. Where else can people find a manicured, well-managed affordable housing community, with a strong responsibility to our residents and the community? Matthew G. Carter truly stands out in that way.”
The property is subsidized through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 236 program and Rental Assistance Program. This enables residents who earn 50 percent of the area median income (AMI) or less to qualify for rental assistance. Those with gross income above the 50 percent AMI level may rent there at prevailing market rates. Currently, seventy percent of the property’s apartments are fully rent subsidized.
The community—which today represents about 16 percent of Montclair Township’s affordable housing units—has three-story brick buildings with apartments ranging from one to three bedrooms, private walkways and recently updated landscaping; every apartment overlooks the private courtyard. “Our management office is on site with a great, responsive staff and we credit Rainbow Property Management with how well the community is maintained, factors that all contribute to strong resident loyalty here.”
About 20 percent of the residents have lived there for 10 or more years and another 22 percent have been there for more than 20 years, with the longest rental period just over 39 years. Rainbow Property Management, LLC in Roseland has professionally managed the complex since 1995.
Another way in which Matthew G. Carter Apartments stands out is the management’s relationships with and commitment to residents on a personal level.
“We have taken active steps to make a difference for residents and contribute to their longevity here,” said Seeney. “Since 1998, our board, in collaboration with Rainbow Property Management, has awarded 20 college scholarships to students living here, valued at approximately $17,000; and starting in 2001, we’ve given 11 summer camperships worth approximately $8000. We have been able to institute and maintain this program thanks to good financial stewardship among our board of directors, who all have strong, long-standing ties to Matthew G. Carter Apartments and the wider Montclair community.”
Seeney has served on the board for 27 years, taking on the president’s role when Matthew Carter stepped down. Other current board members are his daughter and Montclair native, Terri Seeney-Majette; Matthew Carter’s daughter Nanette Carter, an artist and art professor at Pratt Institute; Rev. Paul Leggett, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church; Sandra Lang, secretary/treasurer and a former Montclair Council member; and Calvin Drew, a former funeral director in town.
“We provide an important, quality alternative to public housing that offers well-being to the local citizenry. All of us on the board have a vested interest in seeing this community thrive and a shared passion for what Matthew G. Carter Apartments means to our residents,” said Seeney. “It’s a true labor of love.”