By DON STINE
NEPTUNE TOWNSHIP – Residents living at the Winding Ridge townhouse complex in Neptune are concerned that they may be forced out of their homes due to upcoming rent increases.
The privately-owned complex consists of 99 two- and three-bedroom affordable townhouse apartments but rents are being raised by several hundred dollars for each unit.
Constance Holmes, head of the Winding Ridge Tenants Association, said the complex will soon no longer be affordable housing, with rents going up to $1,400 to $1,800 a unit.
At Monday’s Township Committee meeting, Holmes requested officials look into the increases and consider making the units rent controlled.
“We need your help to straighten this out,” she said.
Originally built as an affordable housing complex about 15 years ago, its owner, Pennrose Development and Property Management, received a 30-year federal tax credit for keeping the units as affordable housing.
However, after 15 years, the company has the option to lose the federal tax credits and, in turn, be released from its affordable housing obligation and turn the units into market-rate housing.
“There is the potential for long-time residents being displaced because of the higher rents,” Township Committeeman Randy Bishop said.
In order for this to happen, state law requires that Pennrose and the state Department of Community Affairs attempt to find a buyer who will maintain the complex as affordable housing before allowing the units to go to market rate.
But Bishop said he believes the DCA and Pennrose did little to advertise that the complex was for sale and that, after one year, the company has now been released from its affordable housing obligation.
Bishop said the DCA posted a very tiny notice about the potential sale of Winding Ridge on a website but he questions whether that was really a good faith effort to find a buyer.
“Even the Monmouth County Alliance For Affordable Housing, which is looking for properties like this, knew nothing about the sale. So one issue is whether or not it was advertised correctly,” he said.
Another issue of concern to Bishop is how the loss of affordable housing at Winding Ridge will affect the township’s number of units required by the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).
Bishop questions if the DCA followed the letter of the law in advertising the sale.
“Did they fulfill the spirit of the law by just posting a little ad on their website? If the county housing alliance did not know about this, then who did?” he said.
Township offcials said they are looking into the matter to see what options may be open to maintain Winding Ridge as affordable housing.
“The township will do all it can,” Mayor Eric Houghtaling said.
Monmouth County Alliance for Affordable Housing Chief Executive Officer Donna M. Blaze confirmed that her nonprofit agency did not know Winding Ridge was on the market until after the fact.
“This listing was posted on a web site that we don’t normally go to to look for properties. But, now that we know this is where they are posting such properties, we will be visiting the web site more often and take a closer look in the future,” she said.
Blaze said her organization would “absolutely” have looked into purchasing Winding Ridge if they had known about its availability.
“It has not been unusual in the past for an e-mail blast or letter to be sent out offering these types of properties. To lose a substantial number of affordable housing units is a real shame. If someone really wanted to find a buyer, then I believe people in the marketplace would be interested,” she said.