Affordable housing to rise in Pennsauken

A team of Camden County and state representatives breaks ground on the new Riverfront Village at Pennsauken housing complex.
A team of Camden County and state representatives breaks ground on the new Riverfront Village at Pennsauken housing complex.
Posted: March 30, 2014

PENNSAUKEN An abandoned Acme Market has sat vacant on the corner of River Road and 47th Street in Pennsauken since the 1990s. Graffiti scars its crumbling brick facade. Taupe-colored, dehydrated weeds fracture the lot's asphalt.

"We always used to complain about it," said Jose Arces, 57, whose front door faces the blighted property. "The township would have to come out and cut [the weeds]. It was bringing down our property values."

On Friday, officials from across the state - including Pennsauken Mayor Jack Killion, Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., and State Sen. James Beach (D., Camden) - ceremonially broke ground on a project that will finally raze the empty building and replace it with a 75-unit apartment complex overlooking the Delaware River.

Dubbed Riverfront Village at Pennsauken, the three-story, townhome-style complex is to feature a fitness center, computer lab, 1,200-square-foot "community room," and tot lot with state-certified playground equipment, Killion said from a lectern under a rain-battered white tent.

Each apartment will be outfitted with Energy Star-compliant heating and cooling systems, water-saving plumbing, and other amenities. Rent is estimated to cost between $700 and $1,150 per month, depending in part on income.

Five of the units will be set aside free for honorably discharged homeless veterans, Killion said. Developer Conifer Real Estate L.L.C. will partner with Volunteers of America Delaware Valley to select and care for the five veterans.

County officials estimate that construction will take 12 months to complete.

In a letter that Killion read, U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker (D., N.J.) lauded the project as an example of "successful collaboration of public and private entities."

The project, estimated to cost $19.6 million, is being funded mainly through low-income housing tax credits allocated by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. The tax credits have generated $15.5 million in private equity, the agency said in a statement. Among other backers are Wells Fargo Bank and the township.

"Not many municipalities these days are looking for more people, more kids," Cappelli said. "We can't have growth in Camden County without increasing our population."

This marks the sixth joint venture between the nonprofit Camden County Housing Association and Conifer, a construction firm based in Rochester, N.Y., that specializes in low-income housing.

The association has worked with Conifer to build affordable-housing complexes in Lindenwold, Somerdale, Merchantville, Gloucester Township, and Lawnside, Conifer project manager Nicholas Cangelosi said. The company maintains a regional office in Mount Laurel.

The county will work with Conifer again in 2014 to construct a housing complex in Gloucester Township, Cappelli said.

The process to apply for low-income housing credits is highly competitive, Cangelosi said. Groups applying for credits are awarded points based on the extent to which the new construction will help the community.

Though allocating five units to veterans was not mandatory, Cangelosi said, donating the units was for all practical purposes a necessity in securing the requisite amount of state aid.

"Losing just one point in the process can dock you significantly," he said.

In his speech before the groundbreaking, Daniel Lombardo, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, thanked Conifer for seeking out his organization.

"We're taking people from the tent cities in Camden, moving them into our facility, and from our facility into housing," Lombardo said.

The Pennsauken lot has seen its share of potential developers come and go.

"Finally having the money around really helps," Cappelli said, citing the state housing mortgage agency's involvement in the process. "A project like this puts people to work."

Killion said the project would generate nearly 180 construction jobs. According to the housing agency, it will also create about 20 year-round jobs.

Felix Matos, 75, Arces' next-door neighbor, said he was not aware of the construction set to take place on the property across the street.

"I used to actually trim the plants and clean the property," Matos said, pointing to growth blocking his view of the river.

"I hope the new buildings bring up the property value."

Arces, a disabled construction worker, said he first heard about the impending construction from another neighbor, who had been given a pamphlet of information by the mayor's office.

"Taxes might go up," he said. "I hope that isn't a problem. But it's good, because this was bringing everything down."

Contact Jerry Iannelli at 856-779-3882.

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