"I'm on a waiting list for a property in Mount Laurel that's seven years long," she said. "I want to get out and live on my own."
So when she heard of the groundbreaking for Riverfront Village at Pennsauken in late March, Gardner made a mental note to apply there when applications open. The 75-unit apartment complex is set to be completed in March 2015.
She isn't alone: Nick Cangelosi, a project manager for Conifer L.L.C., the construction and management company building Riverfront Village, said his firm has been getting "a ton of calls" about the property before a single unit has been built.
Gardner said finding a similar rental - something clean, well-kept, and tied to income - has been next to impossible during the time she's been hunting.
The three-story Pennsauken complex will feature a computer lab, fitness center, and playground.
The site has long been an overgrown, weed-riddled lot that backs up to the Delaware, and is directly in the middle of a similarly unkempt neighborhood.
People living nearby already are optimistic the new complex will enhance their neighborhood and improve their property values. Developers are hopeful that new businesses also will spring up.
The project is funded mainly through the federal low-income housing tax credit program - more than $15 million of the estimated $19.6 million cost will be funded through tax credits.
The program was enacted as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to spur the construction of affordable housing across the country. The Township of Pennsauken has contributed $838,773 to the development.
Under the program, developers that allocate a specified number of units to low-income residents can receive tax credits, through the state, to fund their project.
To receive a 9 percent credit on the project, a New Jersey developer must agree to allocate a minimum of 20 percent of its units to residents who make 50 percent of the median income in the area where the project is located, or 40 percent of its units at 60 percent of the area's median income.
(According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Pennsauken is $58,587.)
This program differs from the federal Section 8 housing program, which allocates rent vouchers to individuals and families who cannot afford rent, as well as provides monetary assistance to property owners who rent homes to those residents.
At Riverfront, all the units will be allocated based on income, including five that will be set aside for homeless veterans. Rent for the units is expected to range between $700 and $1,150, according to a county spokesman.
Cangelosi said demand for apartments at Riverfront does not surprise him, as similar projects Conifer has completed in recent years have filled up quickly.
"Revere Run in Gloucester Township filled up in about a month," he said. "All of our properties outside of the city of Camden have two- to three-year waiting lists."
Conifer is not unique: Ashley Merchant, property manager at the Whitney Crescent Apartments in Glassboro, said the complex she manages boasts a two-year waiting list, and that the property is not even taking applications at this time.
Anthony Marchetta, executive director of the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency said there is a "significant, unsatisfied demand for affordable housing" in the state. The agency allocates the low-income housing tax credits the state receives from the federal government.
He said the cost of living has risen so high in New Jersey that many people earning moderate wages have been seeking out income-based rentals in much higher numbers than before.
"Prices go up, it's a high-cost state, people are paying more and more for rent," Marchetta said.
Cangelosi said many of Conifer's residents are teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, nearly half of the country's unsubsidized rentals available for $400 a month or less in 2011 were built more than 50 years ago.
On Wednesday, drawing criticism from housing advocates, the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing proposed new regulations that call for fewer than 31,000 units of affordable housing to be built by 2024. Units built using low-income housing tax credits would be part of that number.
Both Marchetta and Cangelosi predicted that units at Riverfront Village will be snapped up once the complex opens.
Marchetta hopes the development will spur economic growth throughout Pennsauken. The township "has been distressed for a long period of time," he said.
Faithe Lewis, 38, moved into her apartment at Conifer's 80-unit Revere Run at Gloucester Township in December, just as the complex was opening. Now, she says, there is a three- to five-year waiting list to get in.
Lewis said she pays $972 each month to house herself and her daughter - less than she paid in her previous apartment.
Still, she hopes that her time spent in an affordable housing complex is temporary. She attends Camden County Community College and is studying to become a nurse.
Contact Jerry Iannelli at 856-779-3882.