FARMINGDALE, NJ – Freeholder Lillian Burry and John F. Downing, CEO of Soldier On, the private non-profit organization committed to ending veteran homelessness, unveiled further plans for the proposed $17 million ratable to be located on an approximate 10-acre property on Essex Road, Tinton Falls, at a gathering of local, county, state and federal officials at Eagle Oaks Country Club Tuesday afternoon.
Burry has been championing the proposition for the past five years, challenging every obstacle and offering alternate proposals to give the proposal alive. The new community within Tinton Falls will not only provide housing for homeless veterans but offer 21st century technology in construction of units estimated to cost approximately $275,000 each.
First proposed for a portion of Fort Monmouth as a part of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) of which Burry is a member, the initial plans were scrapped when the non-profit organization’s bid for land on the former army installation was rejected by FMERA last year for being too low.
Undaunted, and pursuing other potential sites, Burry met with Tinton Falls Mayor Gerry Turning, Councilman Gary Baldwin and other municipal leaders and the group found the acreage close to Seabrook Village which appeared to meet all the needs of the proposed community. Announcement of the selection of the site and the proposal was officially made at the Aug. 17 meeting of FMERA, and Tuesday’s announcement laid out more plans and proposals.
Downing, who started the organization in 1994 to end veteran homelessness, gave a brief history of the Soldier On veterans programs, which include both permanent and transitional housing, as well as mental health, substance abuse, dental and medical services, legal assistance, employment, education and transportation services. Soldier On has a presence in five states, including Massachusetts where it originated, New York New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Mississippi.
In New Jersey, Soldier On provides services to veterans in eight counties, including Monmouth, with the state office in Hamilton in Mercer County.
Downing said the Tinton Falls site for housing is ideal in every aspect, from location in an attractive community, access to recreational activities and support from other veterans to the availability of areas where the veterans can provide community services.
Under the Solider On program, Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans limited equity cooperative housing communities are established. Each community is named for the former Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and highly decorated army veteran who completed two tours of duty in Vietnam before being named Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2003 to 2009. Mansfield, a highly decorated veteran of Vietnam, also served as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Currently, Soldier On has veteran communities in
Downing said the Tinton Falls Mansfield community would have no fewer than 50 units, no more than 100, in attached homes designed to blend in with the community and built using sustainable building and energy models that enable the residents to maintain lower energy costs and ensure low upkeep costs.
Veterans in the housing purchase an equity stake in their homes, funding which is then held in trust and available to be returned to them should they move out. Remaining funding is financed through grants, foundations, and federal and state programs, with the veterans paying monthly fees for the affordable housing, as well as providing community service in the area. There will be 16 units in each building, buildings being two or three stories in height. Each unit will be an average of 450 square feet, with both efficiency and one bedroom units included. Most of the homeless veterans who will be served by this new housing are single, Downing said, and coupled with the single bedroom construction, the new housing also will not have any impact on local school systems. In the manner of condominium type housing throughout the country at all price levels, there will also be a number of ancillary buildings and conveniences, the CEO pointed out, including a laundry, a cafeteria, a shuttle stop for transportation which is also provided under the Soldier On program, and even a greenhouse, so veterans can grow their own plants and flowers. Plans also call for a ccolumbarium for those veterans who choose that resting place.
Legislators from Congressman Chris Smith and State Senator Jennifer Beck to Freeholder Director Michael Arnone, all in attendance at yesterday’s meeting, were effusive in praise for Burry and her stalwart efforts over five years to make her dream of housing for homeless veterans a reality. She headed a group who traveled to Massachusetts last year to meeting with Downing, and convinced him to visit Monmouth County in search of a suitable location for housing for homeless veterans. Burry said she was inspired by the late Edith Nowels, a sister of Horace “Bud” Thorne of Middletown, a Medal of Honor recipient killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
Smith, who was the prime sponsor of the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001, has worked with Downing in the past. Four years ago, he was a prime mover in New Jersey receiving a $1 million federal grant to Soldier On to assist low income veterans in central New Jersey, providing housing assistance and stability which enabled them to stay in their own homes and granting economic and employment related assistance to keep veterans from homelessness. Soldier On pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting that because of these efforts and Soldier On’s participation in numerous programs, the number of homeless vets in New Jersey has decreased. However, Downing pointed out, there is still a serious need to assist homeless veterans.