Housing Project For Chronically Homeless Nears Completion

New Community Environmental Services Project Manager Ronda Lawrence shows off the reception area for A Better Life, which has begun to take shape.
New Community Environmental Services Project Manager Ronda Lawrence shows off the reception area for A Better Life, which has begun to take shape.

Construction is well underway for A Better Life, New Community Corporation’s housing project for the chronically homeless, and is slated for completion this summer.

Walls are up throughout the building, staircases are mostly constructed and exterior doors have been installed. Bathtubs have already been installed in many of the units and the shared spaces have started to take shape. Painting has also begun throughout the interior.

According to New Community Environmental Services Project Manager Ronda Lawrence, the facility, located at the corner of 14th Avenue and Camden Street, is more than 80 percent complete.

The $8 million endeavor is a joint project led by New Community in collaboration with various funders and partnering agencies: New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, an affiliate of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs; Red Stone Equity Partners; Essex County HOME Program; Newark HOME Program; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. Lawrence estimates 80 to 100 people have actually worked at the site.

NCC Founder Monsignor William J. Linder says the facility is meant for the “hardcore homeless,” or chronically homeless individuals who often suffer from mental and behavioral health issues, many of whom are veterans.

“These are people who will not live in city shelters. They would rather live on the streets,” Linder said. “I think they have a lot to teach us.”

NCC CEO Richard Rohrman believes the project will benefit the community. “A Better Life will provide the chronically homeless not only with a place to live, but with the services they need to further improve their quality of life,” he said.

A Better Life has been six years in the making partly because it involves so many entities and funders. Lawrence said the paperwork for A Better Life is extensive due to the various sources of funding for the multi-million dollar permanent supportive housing project.

“Every penny has to be accounted for,” she said.

While giving a tour of the facility, Lawrence explained that the building is green, meaning the appliances are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Unit doors are made of metal to reduce the risk of fire spreading throughout the building.

The building also has flooring that prevents water from seeping through from the second to first floor. Lawrence said that comes in handy should there be any type of flooding or if the sprinkler system were to be set off.

Chelsea Construction Company, an NCC subsidiary, is managing the project. It has served as the general manager during the construction phase of several NCC housing developments. Claremont Construction is serving as the general contractor.

The two-story facility will have 24 units, which will each be equipped with a private bathroom, kitchenette and living area. There will be an engagement center, laundry facilities and a library available to residents, as well as support services provided primarily by Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. One employee will also live on site.

A Better Life will provide the chronically homeless in need of services the opportunity to stay long-term as needed. Residents may also transition from the facility to other housing. University Hospital’s emergency care system will refer the chronically homeless for placement at the facility.

Lawrence is looking forward to the building’s opening and the gratifying feeling of providing housing to those that need it most.

“That’s the best feeling in the world,” she said.”

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