Lakewood Organizations Celebrate Four Decades of Affordable Housing

October 21st, 2017
Lakewood Organizations Celebrate Four Decades of Affordable Housing

[Editor's Note: At 5:05 p.m. on October 22 and at 2:10 p.m. on October 23 , 2017, this story was edited for style, content and accuracy.]

There are superheroes without capes in New Jersey's fastest-growing metropolis.

Three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, those who have dedicate their time and special abilities to helping those who have not.

Last Thursday, October 19, the men and women of Lakewood Township Residential Assistance Program (LTRAP) and the Lakewood Tenants Organization, Inc. (LTO), which administers LTRAP, took off their masks for one special night to accept a well-deserved public accolade from friends and fans alike.

"This is our chance to thank these two organizations for the wonderful work they do," Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles told a packed auditorium of well-wishers.

For decades, superheroes in suits fought a never-ending battle against the supervillains of poverty born of changing economic times.

During the municipality's Grand Hotel Era, many residents lived and worked in Lakewood, a resort town frequented by the rich and famous.

By the mid-twentieth century, Lakewood's Grand Hotel Era came to an end.

So did the flow of tourist dollars.

Local employers went out of business and residents lost their jobs.

Civil unrest sparked riots in the 1960s and 1970s.

In response, state and local officials began an aggressive campaign to rebuild the township as a place to once again live and work.

In place of hotels, the township opened the state's second largest industrial park by legally acquiring undersized wildcat lots sold through a marketing promotion in the early twentieth century.

Private interests also invested in the former wildcat lots sold by the township, which they redeveloped as commercial properties, residential housing, schools and places of worship.

To complement those projects, the township became a participating municipality in New Jersey's Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program, which promotes the growth of jobs and business through a comprehensive program of tax and financial incentives.

Public officials were not the only ones to take action.

As Lakewood evolved from a tourist destination to a college town, Rabbi Meir Hertz also saw a need and stepped in to fill it. Four decades ago, he founded LTRAP and the LTO, which focused on providing additional affordable housing to meet a growing need.

In 1977, the LTO petitioned Lakewood's governing body to establish a local Federal Section 8 Housing Assistance Program. The Section 8 program provides rent subsidies in the form of monthly housing assistance payments (HAPS) to private landlords on behalf of eligible families.

The LTO reportedly started the program with only 80 openings. Since that time, the program has grown to 1,100 low-income households comprised of mostly elderly, handicapped and children.

LTRAP not only provides rental assistance for Section 8 voucher participants, it also offers the trademarked HomeRun homeownership program, which enables eligible participants to purchase a new or existing single-family home, condominium, townhouse, cooperative or manufactured home. Two-family homes are not eligible.

Vouchers are portable and can be used to purchase a home in any other municipality with a housing authority that offers a Section 8 homeownership program or permits the LTO to administer the homeownership assistance in that municipality's jurisdiction.

The Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSSP) offers economic incentives matched by HUD to program participants that successfully complete a plan for economic self-sufficiency custom-tailored to their individual and family needs. The plan integrates job training, education, day care and other supportive services with housing assistance.

Upon completion of the plan, program participants are eligible to receive funds deposited in a special escrow account. The funds may be used as a down-payment on a home.

For aspiring homeowners that participate in the program, it is a dream come true.

Many other dreamers are joining the select group of program participants as LTRAP has grown to meet an expanding clientele.

According to its' Web site, LTRAP is the largest provider of private-sector affordable housing in Ocean County. It is a 3-way partnership: the township sponsors it; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds it; and the LTO operates it.

In addition to its' administrative function, the LTO reportedly also organizes, represents and advocates for Lakewood's diverse renter population.

So has Coles.

Prior to his appointment and subsequent election to the Lakewood Township Committee, beginning in December 2001, Coles served as Vice Chairman of the Lakewood Housing Authority. Coles referenced his experience in that position in comments he made on October 19.

Coles also indicated that if the choice were left up to him, there would be no poverty and no need for an affordable housing program to combat it.

"Let's all pray for the day we won't need a program like this," he said, "But for now, (let's be grateful that) we have it."

In addition to 2017 Lakewood Mayor Coles, N.J. Senator Robert Singer, a former Lakewood committeeman who represents Lakewood in the 30th Legislative District, incumbent Lakewood Committeeman Michael D'Elia, and Rabbi Hertz also addressed the public.

The dignitaries spoke in support of the program and answered questions from the public about it.

Hertz thanked Singer for his hard work on behalf of the program.

"There were times the work had bumps in the road," Hertz said. "(Bob Singer) was there for me at every turn…because he wants every success for the program."

Singer said the program functioned like clockwork, benefiting those enrolled in it.

"You can live anywhere you want (with a voucher)," he said. "The only regret we have is that there aren't more vouchers (for everyone that needs one)."

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