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Twp. Wants To Spend Housing Fund, Rather Than Lose It

Dedicated funds for state affordable housing projects may be taken by state by July 17 if not allocated.

Spend it or lose it: That's the message from the state when it comes to special dedicated funds collected from developers over the past several years that were supposed to be kept by municipalities until budgeted for local affordable housing projects.

The on Tuesday night decided that rather than losing $258,000 that could be forfeited to the state four years after that money was collected, it will contribute the fund to a proposed group home that would be run by the Our House Foundation.

To prepare for that move, the committee unanimously approved a resolution to ask the State Council on Affordable Housing to allow Bernards to amend an existing affordable housing plan to spend up to $500,000 of funds previously collected from local developers specifically on group home projects. The Our House project or other group homes were not in the township's latest version of an affordable housing plan, as approved by the state Council on Affordable Housing, McArthur said.

Our House already has developed some group homes in Bernards Township, including being partner for the on part of the property at the Somerset Hills YMCA, said Bruce McArthur.

Township Attorney John Belardo reported during Tuesday's meeting that "Our House" is entering a contract for another group home in the township. Belardo said he hopes that the project, with a contract, might come for approval before the Township Committee at the governing body's next scheduled meeting on July 10.

The township cannot commit affordable housing funds for a housing project unless that developer has a contract in place, and has a commitment from any other financial partners in that project, McArthur said.

McArthur said the township's intent is to allocate $250,000 to Our House to fund part of the latest group home. He said that his understanding that the New Providence-based group intends to purchase rather than construct a new home, was was done with the Melissa Riggio Residence.

Bernards Township contributed $500,000 from the township's developer's fund for the Riggio project, McArthur said.

Following the meeting, McArthur said many communities had been taken by surprise to find that the legislation that created the developer's funds to finance state-ordered affordable housing in many municipalities had included a small clause that the state had the right to take the money if it wasn't used within four years. The legislation requireds developers to contribute a small percentage of money spend on building new homes to be set aside for in the host community's affordable housing projects.

Over the years, Bernards Township collected $7.4 million for its developer's fund, but spent more than $7 million of that on affordable housing projects including not only the Melissa Riggio residence, but other affordable housing developments such as senior housing and another group home developed by Our House, McArthur said.

Bernards Township has spent more on affordable housing than all but a handful of other municipalities in the state, he said. The township has met its legal and moral obligation to contribute to providing affordable housing, McArthur told the public.

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