I support the building of affordable housing in Summit. Many of the teachers, police officers, dental hygienists, office managers and nurses who work in our town--including ministers who serve in our churches--cannot afford to live here. Depending on their income, these people would qualify for these homes.

The Interfaith and Community six-plex under development by Morris Habitat for Humanity is a good way for our community to help low and moderate income people build and buy new condo homes using 300-plus hours of their own sweat equity as part of the collateral. Besides sponsoring the build, Habitat for Humanity will continue to partner with the family for 30 years, insuring that mortgages are paid and the homes are maintained. Over its 24-history, Morris Habitat has built and managed 41 homes without a single foreclosure.

Recently, some folks have inquired as to why Habitat is building new units rather than rehabbing some of Summit's fixer uppers or purchasing a foreclosure. This sounds like a good idea, but isn't often done, as it costs too much to purchase a house in Summit--even a foreclosure--and then rehab it for a price that fits in the Affordable category.

Sign Up for E-News

Look at it this way: the planned six-plex is estimated to cost about $1.93 million, $530,000 for the property (paid out of developer fees, not tax dollars) plus $1.4 million in construction costs (including Interfaith-raised contributions, grants and sweat equity). This yields a cost of about $320,000 per unit.

The least expensive house on the market in Summit today is a single-family, listing at $299,000 without a certificate of occupancy, indicating a need for substantial rehab costing more than $20,000. A few condos are listed in the low $300,000s, but to qualify, they would have to have at least 2 bedrooms and be disability accessible. Fixer-uppers can be turned into COAH-approved Affordable Housing in at least two ways:

1) Property owners may donate a house to Habitat or sell it below cost.

2) Income-eligible homeowners can (and do) apply for Affordable Housing funds to repair their homes.

Deed restrictions are then placed on the homes requiring owners to keep the units in Affordable status for 20 years. The city has spent $289,000 on this in the current COAH round, but many homeowners are reluctant to accept the restrictions.

To be eligible for Affordable Housing, households must have an income totaling 80% or less of the area's median income. (The Summit area's median income is about $87,514; 80% of that is $70,011.) In accordance with state guidelines, the units will sell for between $108,775 and $156,331 to qualifying low and moderate-income families.

Behind its high hedge, the new site for the Interfaith Habitat build at 39 Morris Avenue is barely visible, but engineers say it is larger in area than the previous site (made up of two lots). As a result, there will be more room for parking and more open space for residents.

Habitat architects, working on a pro bono basis, have redesigned the condo six-plex and repositioned it to look like a one-family house from the street. Efforts are being made to move the existing house to another site for use as veterans' housing.

The Interfaith Habitat project gives us a chance to add affordable units to our city's housing stock while building community among our residents. Let's support it.