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Ridgewood builds suitable adult apartments

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A new affordable housing site in downtown Ridgewood will open to 16 adults with developmental disabilities by the end of the summer.

The 13,000 square foot home features six self-catering apartments and two group homes with shared kitchens, living rooms, and washing machines. Everything has been designed specifically for adults with special needs by Virgona & Virgona Architects, and incorporates accessible features.

Planning began in 2018 for what was to be one of a series of affordable housing projects launched by Bergen County United Way and Madeline Housing Corp. The two nonprofits have so far partnered with 34 affordable housing units.

Now, three years and a global pandemic later, the 35th site, located on East Ridgewood Avenue, is about 80% renovated, said Tom Toronto, president of Bergen County United Way.

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The residential units occupy the second floor of the former Sealfons department store. (The first floor of the building will house a branch of PNC Wealth Management.)

The site was supposed to be ready in Spring 2020. However, as is often the case with construction, the ideal timeline and realistic timeline ended up looking different.

“As anyone who’s done home renovations knows, whether it’s a kitchen or a bathroom or whatever, you quickly discover that there are surprises, some anticipated and others, like a pandemic, unforeseen, ”says Toronto.

A pleasant surprise came when the interior demolition uncovered an old skylight, which the team decided to update to capitalize on natural light. It meant more money and more time.

More difficult has been the curve ball thrown by the pandemic.

How the pandemic has changed things

The pandemic has brought both temporal and financial setbacks. The first concerned social distancing. The construction site is a closed building, which means fewer construction workers could take up the space at a time, slowing progress.

The other major challenge was rising prices for building materials, especially lumber, the market price of which tripled in 2020, according to the National Association of Home Builders. As a result, more funding was needed.

Affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities is being built in Ridgewood.  The accommodation will consist of two group homes and six independent living apartments.  Bergen County United Way President Tom Toronto visits units under construction on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

How the project was funded

The original budget was $ 2.6 million, but is now approaching $ 3 million, funded by local, county, state and federal contributions.

It all started with a $ 500,000 grant from Ridgewood’s Affordable Housing Trust in June 2019. Onyx Equities, the company that owns the property, also contributed $ 25,000. The Bergen County Community Development Division contributed $ 1 million and the Federal Home Loan donated another $ 500,000. This year Ridgewood added $ 25,000 to cover the remaining costs.

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The development team is awaiting its final funding from the New Jersey State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. The rest of the money came from fundraising initiatives.

“We struggle sometimes [with funding], because they say, ‘Your jobs are so expensive.’ Our point of view is that we prefer to spend money up front in order to spend less on maintenance on the road, ”said Toronto.

Affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities is being built in Ridgewood.  The accommodation will consist of two group homes and six independent living apartments.  Bergen County United Way President Tom Toronto visits units under construction on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

What makes the design unique

The houses are designed to meet the accessibility needs of tenants.

Where standard kitchen counter heights are typically 32 inches, they have been lowered to 30 inches. The elevators have been modernized to be larger; hallways and doors are extra wide; and larger bathrooms to accommodate showers accessible to people with reduced mobility.

The apartments have been designed so that residents can “age in place”. In other words, if a resident eventually needs a wheelchair, the space will already be equipped to accommodate.

The building also has additional fire safety features. At the top of the two stairs there is a ‘refuge area’, an area with additional sprinkler heads and evacuation chairs that non-ambulatory residents can go to in the event of a fire. The Ridgewood Fire Department knows where the refuge areas are. Additionally, the second floor of the building – where the affordable homes are located – has a four hour fire rating, meaning that if a fire breaks out on the first floor, residents will have four hours to evacuate before the fire does not spread upstairs.

At least one double-glazed window has been fitted in each bedroom and in many cases the windows have been made larger to let in more natural light. The emphasis on natural light is visible throughout the second floor, which is brightly lit thanks to the skylight and abundant windows.

“It’s all in the details, and people deserve that kind of care and attention,” said Toronto.

When will the houses be ready?

The deadline for tenant applications was June 17th. Centraide and Madeline Housing are in the process of selecting candidates for interviews. Some apartments are two-bedroom, which means that some tenants will be paired with a roommate. Toronto said organizations pay special attention to roommate matches to ensure good chemistry and compatible abilities.

With construction nearing completion and the tenant selection process underway, Toronto said the site could be ready to open by August 1, but more realistically, September 1.

Affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities is being built in Ridgewood.  The accommodation will consist of two group homes and six independent living apartments.  The exterior of units under construction on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

What is the ultimate goal

The affordable housing projects launched by United Way and Madeline Housing aim to both provide accessible living conditions to underserved populations and to diversify the housing landscape in communities like Ridgewood.

“Ridgewood has been at the forefront of accessibility and openness to a diverse community, especially for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Toronto. “So I think what we’re doing here is making a lot of dreams come true – the governing body’s dream to actually have supportive housing.”

“On behalf of individuals and their guardians, the opportunity to live in downtown Ridgewood… We think it’s quite spectacular.” The housing units are within walking distance of the community pool, movie theater, and cafes, and are located just down the street from the Ridgewood Public Library.

Jon Weiner has lived at Mahwah Commons, another of the supportive housing sites launched by United Way and Madeline Housing, for the past four years. Like the Ridgewood housing site, Mahwah Commons is aimed at adults with developmental disabilities. Weiner lives in a self-catering apartment with a roommate.

Since moving to Mahwah Commons, Weiner said, “I feel like I’ve become a lot more independent. I cook myself, shop and clean, so I really learned to take care of myself and have more freedom.

To apply for housing at any Centraide site for people with intellectual disabilities, visit bergenunitedway.org.


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