Over 1,000 people have applied for 3 affordable rentals in Haddonfield as the council looks to expand housing opportunities (2023)

Kevin Riordan Der Philadelphia Enquirer

HADDONFIELD -- Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich walked through a neighborhood where a well-preserved home indicates the willingness of its affluent community to embrace affordable housing as a public good after years of opposition, strife and reluctance.

"Historically, Haddonfield hasn't done a very good job with affordable housing," the mayor said, pausing at a two-bedroom house on Fowler Avenue that the city had bought for about $350,000 to rent for income-eligible renters to reserve.

"You can't point your finger at any commissioner or administration, but we've had enough of 'not in my backyard'," says Bianco Bezich, who has been mayor since 2021. “In my opinion, the scattered affordable building plots they are a new and exciting opportunity for Haddonfield to have more housing options and opportunities for all. The vision is that every neighborhood is home to a family who cannot necessarily afford off-the-shelf housing.”

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Overseen by a city-founded nonprofit and managed by a division of Triad Associates, a private company with which it signed last year, the scattered site program will include eight properties in Haddonfield neighborhoods. A first round of applications ended Jan. 31 after attracting 1,169 potential tenants for Fowler Avenue and two other properties currently available, and the triad continues to accept applications for a waitlist, city officials said.

The mayor and two other members of the borough's board of commissioners hope the wooded Camden County suburb known for its strong schools and lively downtown area can finally begin to meet affordable housing needs through its sparse site approach .

"We understand that we have an obligation to do the right thing," said Commissioner Kevin Roche.

But for a community of less than three square miles and more than 12,000 residents, with scarce land available and rising house prices that are prohibitive for many, "there is no single affordable housing recipe for success," he said. . "Distributed locations is one of many measures we need to take."

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Commissioner Frank Troy said: “The three of us [Commissioners] are fully committed to delivering on our Fair Share commitments and are thinking creatively about how we can do that. We search available properties across the country to see if something would be a good fit. And the dispersed locations help remove any stigma associated with affordable housing.”

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a complicated story

In 2019, Haddonfield entered into a legally binding agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center to meet the community's affordable housing obligations under the Mount Laurel Doctrine. Named after four consecutive New Jersey Supreme Court decisions beginning in 1975 banning local zoning codes that discriminated against disadvantaged buyers and renters, the doctrine created a mechanism for municipalities to provide affordable housing under the supervision of a lower court.

The 2019 agreement directs Haddonfield to provide 83 affordable units by 2025. These include the 20 townhouses of Snowden Commons, a development to be built on a vacant 1.5 acre lot behind Borough Hall on East Kings Highway.

Planned as a 28-unit complex, Snowden was reduced to 20 townhouses after some neighbors raised questions about the density's impact on parking and traffic. Bianco Bezich and other city officials developed the scattered sites strategy to make up for the eight units lost at Snowden. About 40 communities across the state, including Cherry Hill, use similar approaches, according to Fair Share.

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Construction of the $5.4 million Snowden complex has also been delayed from last year because the New Jersey Office of Historic Preservation conducted an ongoing review, which was turned on because portions of the site are in the historic district of the community lie.

Opponents hoped conservation concerns would permanently ruin Snowden Commons. However, officials said the city has received conditional approval from the Monument Preservation Department and the developer, Community Investment Strategies of Lawrenceville, Mercer County, is prepared to proceed pending final approval.

"It's not going to look like what people think when they think 'affordable housing,'" Bianco Bezich said. "Each townhouse will have its own address and entrance."

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The 2019 agreement also calls for the construction of 10 more affordable units on the site of the former Bancroft School off Kings Highway at Hopkins Lane as part of a townhouse community proposed by developer J. Brian O'Neill, who is also the founder of Recovery is centers of America. O'Neill's proposal to build one of his addiction treatment centers on part of the property in 2015 outraged many local residents.

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Founded in 1883 by special education pioneer Margaret Bancroft, the school had outgrown its park-like Haddonfield campus by the turn of the 21st century. The County Board of Education proposed purchasing the property for $12.3 million, but a 2013 ballot approving the sale failed. In 2014, Bancroft announced plans to build a new campus at Mount Laurel and moved there in 2017.

Following excitement over the proposed reclamation facility, the city purchased the site from Bancroft in 2016 for $12.9 million. O'Neill retained the option to buy back 8.2 of those acres, and in 2019 he and the city signed a deal that would see his development company There build 80 market townhomes and 10 affordable townhomes.

But last December, O'Neill sued the county in federal court, alleging that Haddonfield's primary intent from the start was not to build townhouses but to thwart the development of a residential treatment center for people with alcohol and drug addictions, the lawsuit states is rape. of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The developer is also seeking court approval to build a treatment plant or townhouse with as little as 90 or as many as 400 units on the site.

Haddonfield has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. In a separate public statement, the county claimed that O'Neill's surprise move came despite "multiple attempts by [Haddonfield] to engage in a cooperative process [and] negotiate in good faith over the past three years."

The statement went on to say that the community "remains committed to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing as the litigation progresses."

Speaking to Fair Share, Esmé Devenney, a member of the New Jersey Housing Justice Corps, said: "We believe Haddonfield must build the 10 units that it has agreed to build [and] it would be a breach of our settlement agreement if." they would not build the 10 units there.”

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Fair Share is also "happy that Haddonfield was able to find a new way to meet its Mount Laurel commitment" by using the distributed site approach, he said.

The mayor, who grew up in Pennsauken and lives with her husband and young son in a part of Haddonfield that borders Haddon Township, said affordable housing is a key element of her administration. Homes are being bought with money from the state's Affordable Housing Trust, not city funds.

"When I first took over, I realized that Snowden's development, which had been in the works for a decade, was in limbo and I felt a real drive to make it happen," said Bianco Bezich, an attorney with Background on land use.

"This isn't just about complying with court obligations or the terms of an agreement," he said. “We need more affordable housing in Haddonfield. I will act proactively and aggressively to make this happen."


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